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Firework accident that killed NHL goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks was at coach’s house, team says

By Jennifer Henderson and Wayne Sterling, CNN

Matiss Kivlenieks, a goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League, died Sunday night after a fireworks accident at the home of the team’s goaltending coach, a spokesperson for the organization said Tuesday.

Kivlenieks was a guest at coach Manny Legace’s home in Novi, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, for a party celebrating Legace’s daughter’s wedding, a spokesperson for the Blue Jackets said. Kivlenieks attended the July 4 party with Blue Jackets teammate and fellow Latvian Elvis Merzlikins.

Kivlenieks, 24, died from a fireworks mortar blast and chest trauma, according to Inspector Mitch Brown of the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The death was ruled accidental after a full autopsy was conducted by the Oakland County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic, Brown said.

Novi Police Department Lt. Jason Meier told CNN that the chest injury from the fireworks resulted in internal injuries.

Meier said Tuesday that a fireworks mortar shot over the top of the hot tub where Kivlenieks was sitting. “What occurred was they were lighting off what looks like a nine-shot mortar box,” Meier said. “And at one point the box tipped up the final two mortars.”

Kivlenieks tried to flee, but the final shot appears to have hit him in the chest area, according to Meier.

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Merzlikins, also a goaltender, shared a message for Kivlenieks on Instagram.

“My little brother, what to say, I really loved you, you were the little brother for me that I took care of,” he wrote late Monday night. “I really love you, I’ll miss you, we had our last basketball game in the pool and we enjoyed before you left me right after.”

Legace, 48, has not commented on the situation, according to the Blue Jackets organization.

Before being named the Blue Jackets goaltending coach in July of 2018, Legace spent five seasons in the same position for the club’s American Hockey League affiliates, the Cleveland Monsters and Springfield Falcons. Legace coached Kivlenieks in Cleveland in 2017.

Emergency responders were dispatched for an injury call at 10:13 p.m. Kivlenieks was taken to Ascension Providence Hospital and pronounced dead, Meier said.

Kivlenieks was remembered with a moment of silence before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday between the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said: “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. 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.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman shared his condolences on behalf of the league.

“The National Hockey League was saddened to learn of the sudden and tragic passing of goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks,” Bettman said in a statement.

“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.”

Kivlenieks signed with Columbus as a free agent in 2017. In eight career games with the team, he went 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goal-against average (GAA).

From 2017-21, the goaltender played for the Blue Jackets’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, where he had a 33-35-9 record with a 3.31 GAA and three shutouts in 85 career games.

Kivlenieks represented Latvia at several international tournaments, including the world championships in May and June where in four games he went 1-2 with a 2.18 GAA and one shutout. That shutout came in Latvia’s first-ever win over Canada on the first day of the tournament.

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CNN’s David Close, Jill Martin and Kelsie Smith contributed to this report.

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