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Columbus Blue Jackets’ goalie Matiss Kivlenieks dies after Detroit-area fireworks accident

By STEPHEN WHYNO

and KATHLEEN FOODY

Associated Press

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast in what authorities described Monday as a tragic accident on the Fourth of July.

Police in the Detroit suburb of Novi said the firework tilted slightly and started to fire toward people nearby Sunday night. The 24-year-old Kivlenieks was in a hot tub and tried to get clear with several other people, police Lt. Jason Meier said. Authorities earlier said the Lativan had died of an apparent head injury during a fall, but an autopsy clarified the cause of death.

The fire department and EMTs got to the private home shortly after 10 p.m. and took Kivlenieks to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Meier said. The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office reported preliminary autopsy results Monday afternoon.

Prior to the autopsy, police said Kivlenieks was believed to have slipped and hit his head on concrete while running from a malfunctioning firework.

“At the moment, we’re pretty certain this was a tragic accident,” Meier said.

The Blue Jackets and Latvian Hockey Federation announced Kivlenieks’ death, with the NHL club initially 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, where the Tampa Bay Lightning had a chance to clinch the championship against the Canadiens on Monday night.

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.