The Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday addressed “the layers of terribleness” following the tragic death of goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks in a fireworks incident in Novi.
Kivlenieks died Sunday night at the home of Manny Legace, the Blue Jackets goaltending coach and former Detroit Red Wings goalie. An autopsy concluded Kivlenieks suffered percussive injuries to his internal organs as a result of a fireworks explosion. Kivlenieks was 24.
“As we try to get our arms around this unspeakable tragedy that occurred Sunday night, our focus has been on Matiss’ family in Latvia, and our own Blue Jackets family here,” president of hockey operations John Davidson said Wednesday afternoon. “We are doing everything we can to support everyone.
“There’s always layers of terribleness that happens with these things.
“This was Manny’s daughter’s wedding. All those people were there, and this tragedy happened. We have to deal with it and deal with it in the right way, which I am very confident we are.”
On Monday, Novi Police Lt. Jason Meier said Kivlenieks and others were seated in a hot tub when fireworks “accidentally went off and launched in the direction of Mr. Kivlenieks.” Paramedics arrived at the home at 10:13 p.m. and found Kivlenieks unresponsive. He was transported to Ascension Providence Hospital in Novi where he was pronounced dead, Meier said.
Initial reports stated Kivlenieks slipped and hit his head as he fled the hot tub.
“All I can say is that we said what we were told, and we said apparent head injury,” Davidson said. “We didn’t say it was a head injury, we said ‘apparent.’ Obviously, we’ve learned a lot more since.”
Legace, who played for the Wings from 2000-2006, has not commented. Davidson said team personnel would limit comments while the police report was ongoing.
Based on early investigations, police do not believe the individual who launched the fireworks was consuming alcohol, nor that was an illegal activity.
Asked if anyone should be held responsible, Davidson said, “the police report will take care of that. I can’t comment one way or the other. I’m confident in the people that were there. This, to me, seems like a tragic accident. But the police report will take care of that.”
Mental health professionals have been made available to everyone in the organization.
“We supply all the help that we possibly can,” Davidson said. “It’s an option for the players, their families, people that work for the Blue Jackets. I’ve seen a lot of down faces around here.
“This kid was available. He made people smile. He was just a great kid. We’ll do what we can to help anybody that needs it.”
Kivlenieks appeared in two games this season, playing May 7 and 8 against the Wings. He had a 3.09 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in eight career NHL games. He was considered a bright prospect in the organization and an always-welcome sight.
“Matiss always had the right attitude,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He came to the rink with a smile on his face whether he was playing or a backup or just trying to get better every day. That’s been said pretty much by every player that’s made remarks on the terrible incident. That speaks volumes of his character, when all his teammates have had the same message.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.