Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks died of fireworks blast at coach’s Michigan home

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Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks died in a freak fireworks accident at the Michigan home of the team’s goaltending coach — on the same day as his daughter’s wedding, according to reports.

Kivlenieks, 24, was in a hot tub at the home of Manny Legace in Novi when a mortar-style firework tilted slightly and struck him in the chest Sunday as it fired toward a group of people.

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The wedding of Legace’s daughter, Sabrina, to real estate agent Nick Howell was held at the home earlier in the day, the Daily Mail reported.

Teammate Elvis Merzlikins (left) posted a tribute to Kivlenieks on social media, saying: 'I really love you, I’ll miss you.'
Teammate Elvis Merzlikins (left) posted a tribute to Kivlenieks on social media, saying: “I really love you, I’ll miss you.”
@merzly via Instagram

An ensuing “night of relaxation and uninhibited revelry” was held at the home, with guests clad in Hawaiian-style dress, according to the report, which cited the couple’s wedding website.

Police Lt. Jason Meier said Kivlenieks tried to avoid the fireworks blast while in the hot tub with several other people. Authorities earlier said the Latvian died of an apparent head injury, but preliminary autopsy results released Monday afternoon clarified his cause of death of chest trauma.

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

The alleged hot tub Kivlenieks was in at the Legace family house when a firework misfired and struck him.
The hot tub Kivlenieks was in at the Legace family house when a firework misfired and struck him.
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Elexis Shultz visits a makeshift memorial in front of Nationwide Arena today in Columbus, Ohio, to remember Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks.
Elexis Shultz visits a makeshift memorial in front of Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, to remember Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks.
AP

There’s no indication the person who lit the shell-and-mortar-style fireworks had been drinking alcohol, Meier told the Detroit News.

Legace declined to comment when reached early Monday, the Detroit News reported. The president of a neighborhood homeowner association, Kendall Joy, confirmed to the newspaper that the incident occurred at Legace’s home. The goaltending coach and former NHL netminder joined the team in 2018, according to his team bio.

Kivlenieks’ teammate and fellow Latvia native Elvis Merzlikins posted a photo of the pair on Instagram in Hawaiian shirts, thanking Kivlenieks for being such an “amazing person” and sharing details of their final moments together.

“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,” Merzlikins wrote. “We love you and fly high baby, fly high! You saved your last puck! You will be our guardian angel.”

Police said Kivlenieks was roughly 10 feet away from the mortar when he was struck, the Daily Mail reported. He died from a percussive injury caused by the blast, causing major damage to his heart and lungs.

Firefighters and paramedics responded to Legace’s home at about 10:15 p.m. Sunday. Kivlenieks told one teammate not to get into the ambulance with him, according to the Daily Mail.

“[Kivlenieks] didn’t want him to have to see that,” the late goalie’s agent, Jay Grossman, told the outlet.

Kivlenieks, a native of Riga, Lativa, who signed with the Blue Jackets in 2017, was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

A moment of silence was held for Kivlenieks prior to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup on Monday between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The Canadiens won Game 4, but trail the Lightning 3-1 in the series. Tampa Bay’s coach, Jon Cooper, addressed Kivlenieks’ family after his team’s overtime loss.

“It’s an awful tragedy for anybody, any family to go through that,” Cooper told reporters. “But somebody in the NHL family, as close as we all are as the teams even battling out there, from all the Lightning, our condolences.”

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