RIP Matiss Kivlenieks (1996-2021)


It is with tremendous sadness that we send our heartfelt condolences to the family of Matiss Kivlenieks. The Columbus Blue Jackets goalie was taken tragically on the Fourth of July. He was just 24. RIP Kivi (1996-2021)

Tragedy struck the hockey community on Independence Day. It was revealed yesterday that Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks tragically passed away late Sunday night due to a horrible accident involving fireworks in Novi, Michigan. He was only 24.

According to several reports, Kivlenieks was struck while in a hot tub during a Fourth of July party. In addition to chest drama, he suffered internal injuries that led to his tragic death. With more details about the horrible accident, Novi Police Department Lt. Jason Meier indicated that from his investigation, it looked like they lighted a nine shot mortar box. The issue was the box tipped over causing the last two mortars to fire in the direction of Kivlenieks. Kivlenieks tried to scramble out of harms way, but the last shot hit him in the chest.

A two-year NHL pro, Kivlenieks was struck by a fireworks mortar blast that caused chest drama. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The sad tragedy happened while he was at coach Manny Legace’s house celebrating the former NHL goalie’s daughter’s wedding.

It’s an awful way to go. What should’ve been a happy time had by all turned into a sad tragedy. Kivlenieks’ close friend and teammate Elvis Merzlikins also attended the celebration. Both are from Riga, Latvia. It was heartbreaking for Merzlikins, who paid tribute to his friend following the tragedy.

“My little brother, what to say, I really loved you, you were the little brother for me that I took care of,” he expressed on his Instagram that included a photo of the two from that 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.

“We love you and fly high baby, fly high!
You saved your last puck! ❤️
You will be our guardian angel
R.I.P #80❤️🕯

It really is an emotional tribute from Merzlikins, who referred to Kivlenieks as Kivi, which was his nickname. Teammates and former teammates paid tribute to Kivlenieks. The NHL showed tremendous support on Twitter. It is gut wrenching to think that a life can be lost in such a haunting way. It was a freak accident. It makes one wonder why. Sometimes, life isn’t fair. It’s a reminder how precious life is.

The hockey community always is very strong and close knit when it comes to such tragedies. During last night’s Game Four at Bell Centre prior to puck drop, the Canadiens and Lightning held a moment of silence for Kivlenieks. It sure was emotional. Then, they went out and played a great game won by the Habs on a Josh Anderson goal in overtime to keep his team’s Stanley Cup hopes alive.

Stick taps go out to the family of Matiss Kivlenieks along with all the friends and fans he had. It’s hard to believe it was a year and a half ago that I was at MSG with my family to see the Rangers take on the Blue Jackets. It was on the night of Jan. 19, 2020 that Kivlenieks made his NHL debut in net for Columbus. He was giving Merzlikins a rare night off due to Joonas Korpisalo being out for an extended period. What a memorable night that was for him.

It wasn’t hard to remember that his first game came against the Rangers. What I recall most is how well Kivlenieks played. He made 31 saves on 32 shots to backstop the Blue Jackets to a 2-1 win at The Garden. A hard fought game that was won by teammate Oliver Bjorkstrand with 27 seconds left in regulation. He made a lot of good stops to give his team a chance at the come from behind win. So, it was well deserved.

It’s just hard to believe he’s gone 18 months later. In ’20-21, Kivlenieks didn’t play in many games for Columbus due to the goalie situation. He was third behind the tandem of Merzlikins and Korpisalo. After spending much of the season on the Taxi Squad, he started consecutive games against the Red Wings on 5/7 and 5/8. After losing the first one, he won the second start making 33 saves on 37 shots. It was his second career NHL win. As it turned out, he won the first and last start of a career cut short by an unfortunate tragedy.

It’s really a shame. With Columbus expected to move on from either Merzlikins or Korpisalo, next season was going to be Kivlenieks’ chance as a backup. There is nothing else to say. It hurts just thinking about it. Our hearts go out to Matiss Kivlenieks’ family and inner circle. Rest easy. Fly high in the sky. You lived your dream.

RIP Matiss Kivlenieks (8/26/96 – 7/4/21) 🤤😢🙏💜💛

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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