Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks died Sunday night after a fireworks mishap at a Novi holiday party at the home of former Red Wings goalie Manny Legace.
An initial autopsy report determined Kivlenieks, 24, died from a “percussive injury,” the extreme force from the powerful blast of exploding fireworks, Novi police confirmed Monday afternoon.
The force of the blast caused chest trauma, and Kivlenieks suffered major damage to his heart and lungs, according to the autopsy report from the county medical examiner.
Kendall Joy, president of the neighborhood homeowner association and a longtime resident, confirmed that the home where the incident occurred was Legace’s. Legace is the Blue Jackets’ goalie coach. He declined comment when reached by The News on Monday morning.
Novi police Lt. Jason Meier said it remains unclear if Kivlenieks was hit directly by fireworks.
“There was some minor injury to his exterior, which would lead us to believe that some portion of the firework made contact with him, but we’re not really sure if it was a direct hit or whether the percussion from the explosion caused his injuries,” Meier said.
Kivlenieks’s death is being investigated as accidental. Meier said investigators are in the process of interviewing witnesses to get a clearer picture of what happened, then will review their findings.
Police will follow up with prosecutors after their investigation is complete to determine if any charges are warranted, Meier said, but at this time no charges are under consideration.
Initial reports, including a team statement from the Blue Jackets, cited a head injury. Meier said earlier Monday it appeared Kivlenieks slipped getting of the hot tub to flee from the fireworks, and hit his head on the concrete. Multiple people were in the hot tub at what Meier called a “large gathering.” There were no other injuries, Meier said.
Police received the 911 call shortly after 10 p.m. Sunday, paramedics were on the scene within five minutes, and Kivlenieks was transported to Ascension Providence Hospital in Novi, where he was pronounced dead.
Meier said there was no indication alcohol was involved with the person lighting the shell-and-mortar-style fireworks.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 18 fireworks-related deaths in 2020, up from 12 in 2019. The agency estimates there were about 15,600 fireworks-related injuries that were treated in an emergency-room setting in 2020. Private firework use reportedly increased in 2020 amid the pandemic, with many municipalities canceling their shows.
“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,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson said in a statement Monday morning.
“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.”
Kivlenieks, a native of Latvia, played eight games for the Blue Jackets. He signed with them in May 2017.
A junior star in Latvia, he came to the United States in 2016 with the goal of playing in the NHL. He wasn’t drafted, but signed a $2.5 million, three-year contract with the Blue Jackets. He played mostly for the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL the last three years.
His two NHL games this season were against the Red Wings, on May 7 and 8. He lost May 7 and won May 8, his final NHL game.
The Red Wings offered their condolences on Twitter on Monday.
“The National Hockey League was saddened to learn of the sudden and tragic passing of goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks,” NHL commissioner Gary 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.”
Said NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Matiss Kivlenieks at the age of only 24. His passion and drive enabled him to reach the top level of hockey, which included winning his final NHL game on May 8 with Columbus and representing Latvia at the recent World Championship. Our condolences go out to Matiss’ family, friends and teammates during this difficult time. He will be missed by all who knew him.”