The team initially reported his death was due to an apparent head injury suffered during a fall. A medical examiner in Michigan says an autopsy has determined that Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast, and not a fall.
“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.”
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 Police Lt. Jason Meier said.
“Initial investigation appears to show, and I must stress this is an active investigation so it could change and update as we go, but initial investigation appears to show that there was a fireworks malfunction, which caused some fireworks to be shot in the direction of some onlookers, including Mr. Kivlenieks who was in a hot tub at the time. Upon exiting the hot tub, he collapsed and struck the pavement. We were initially investigating it as a possible slip and fall with a head injury, but we have since learned through the autopsy that the cause of death was a percussive injury, which damaged his internal organs, caused by the firework exploding near him,” said Lt. Meier.
Lt. Meier said it was his heart and lungs that were damaged.
“We’re still treating this as an accidental death. We have no reason to believe that anything — foul play happened, or any type of criminal laws were necessarily violated, but we want to cross all of our t’s and dot all of our i’s, and make sure that the investigation is fully complete and that we have an accurate picture of what happened before we proceed with anything else, but at this time we’re treating it as a tragic accident,” Meier said.
Kivlenieks, who signed with Columbus as a free agent in May 2017, went 2-2-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in eight career games with the club. He made his NHL debut at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19, 2020, stopping 31-of-32 shots to beat the New York Rangers, 2-1. He posted a 33-35-9 mark, 3.31 GAA, .896 SV% and three shutouts in 85 career games with the Cleveland Monsters, the Blue Jackets’ American Hockey League affiliate from 2017-21. He represented Latvia at several international tournaments including the 2021 IIHF World Championships this spring, where he went 1-2 with a 2.18 GAA, .922 SV% and one shutout in four games.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.