(AP) Latvia’s Matiss Kivlenieks, a candidate to be the Columbus Blue Jackets’ future starting goaltender, died in Michigan on Sunday night after fleeing a hot tub and hitting his head following a Fourth of July fireworks accident. He was 24.
Kivlenieks was in a hot tub and fled with several other people, but he slipped and hit his head on concrete, police in Novi, Michigan, told The Associated Press on Monday.
The fire department and EMTs got to the private home about 10:13 on Sunday night and took him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Novi Lt. Jason Meier said. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.
“At the moment, we’re pretty certain this was a tragic accident,” Meier said.
The Blue Jackets and Latvian Hockey Federation announced Kivlenieks’ death earlier Monday, with the NHL club saying it resulted from an apparent head injury in a fall. The team’s statement made no mention of fireworks.
Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen tweeted: “Life is so precious and can be so fragile. Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed.”
Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson called it a “devastating time” for the team.
“Kivi was an outstanding young man who greeted every day and everyone with a smile and the impact he had during his four years with our organization will not be forgotten,” he said.
“What a tragic loss for all of us who knew him and I am thinking and praying for his family,” former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno tweeted. “Heaven gained a darn good goalie and better person… Just, way too soon.”
Kivlenieks’ death came on the eve of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Montreal, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first chance to win the championship up 3-0 on the Canadiens. Former Columbus captain David Savard learned of it from Foligno.
“That was a brutal wakeup this morning,” Savard said in French. “That was a good kid with a lot of talent who was going to be a part of the team next year or in the future. That’s extremely sad.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Kivlenieks’ “love for life and passion for the game will be deeply missed by all those who have been fortunate to have him as a teammate and a friend.”
Kivlenieks most recently represented Latvia this spring at the world hockey championship in which he played four games. He played two games for the Blue Jackets and eight for the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters this past season.
A native of Riga, Latvia, Kivlenieks signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent in May 2017 and played eight teams for the club. The Latvian Hockey Federation called Kivlenieks’ death “a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation.”
Kivlenieks was at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington last Tuesday as a guest of IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.
Rossi announced that day he was going to race the Baja 1000 in Mexico in November, and Kivlenieks took a ride around Mid-Ohio in a Honda Ridgeline to help promote both Rossi and Sunday’s IndyCar race.
“This hits hard,” Rossi tweeted. “Prayers to the family and the team.”