This was the most gut-wrenching news anyone could wake up to on Monday morning.
Reports started to surface that Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks had passed away. At the time the initial reports came out, it wasn’t known what exactly happened. Then just before 9 A.M. eastern, the team put out a statement about Kivlenieks’ death.
“We are shocked and saddened by the loss of Matiss Kivlenieks, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his mother, Astrida, his family and friends during this devastating time,” said Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson. “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.”Columbus Blue Jackets’ Official Team Statement
Within that press release, the Blue Jackets indicated that Kivlenieks suffered “an apparent head injury in a fall.” As well, “medical personnel were called immediately, but he succumbed a short time later.”
Later on Monday, per the coroner’s office in Oakland County, Michigan, it was determined that the cause of death for Kivlenieks was “chest trauma” from a fireworks accident. The investigation is ongoing.
Kivlenieks Was Well Loved
There are absolutely no words that can adequately describe how tragic this was for everyone involved and for those that knew Kivlenieks best. Everyone that had the honor of knowing him said the same thing. He always had a smile on his face.
When the news of Kivlenieks’ passing got out, tributes starting coming in from all over the sporting world. From his teammates to fans to other teams in hockey and in other sports, it was clear that he was universally loved. Here is a small sample of what was said.
- Blue Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen: “Life is so precious and can be so fragile. Hug your loved ones today. RIP Matiss, you will be dearly missed.”
- Blue Jackets’ forward Nathan Gerbe: “Words are hard to find right now, but the day we put the same jersey on meant that we would be family forever. When my kids play Kivi ‘the kid’ in goal it will have a greater meaning!! RIP kid, love you brother.”
- Former Blue Jackets’ captain Nick Foligno: “Seeing all the beautiful tributes to Matiss only further cements what kind of person he was! What a tragic loss for all of us who knew him and I am thinking and praying for his family. Heaven gained a darn good goalie and better person…Just, way too soon. RIP Kivi.”
- Cleveland Monsters’ GM Chris Clark: “We are devastated by the loss of Matiss Kivlenieks, and send our condolences to his family, teammates, and friends at this time. Matiss approached the game and every day with joy and positivity and his presence will be missed by all. The impact Matiss made on the Cleveland Monsters organization and each of us individually will not be forgotten.”
- Former Blue Jackets’ AGM Bill Zito: “My heart aches to learn this morning of the passing of Matiss. Our Panthers’ family joins the NHL in sending heartfelt condolences to his family, teammates and the Blue Jackets family during this impossibly difficult time.”
- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: “The National Hockey League was saddened to learn of the sudden and tragic passing of goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks. On behalf of the NHL family, we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and teammates in both the Blue Jackets organization and his native country of Latvia. His 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.”
Sticks Out For Kivi
And in an overwhelming response, fans all over have put their hockey sticks outside their homes in honor of Kivlenieks. His last NHL game was the Blue Jackets’ home finale, a 5-4 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings. That was his first win at Nationwide Arena in his NHL career.
Kivlenieks also participated in the recently completed World Championships in his native country of Latvia. He played very well including posting a 2-0 shutout over Team Canada.
Kivlenieks was in Ohio as recently as last week when he was at Mid-Ohio Race Track. He and his teammate Elvis Merzlikins were there together zooming around the dirt with IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.
Again, there are just no words that can describe the pain and agony of this loss. Kivlenieks was as kind as anyone that I’ve ever come across. His smile always lit the room. He was always a joy to be around. And now, we will all very deeply miss his presence not only at Nationwide Arena, but in the entire hockey world.
We at the Hockey Writers join the hockey world in mourning over the passing of Kivlenieks. Our thoughts are with his family, loved ones and those that were close to him.
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I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.