Matīss Kivlenieks

Matīss Kivlenieks
Born (1996-08-26)26 August 1996
Riga, Latvia
Died 4 July 2021(2021-07-04) (aged 24)
Novi, Michigan, U.S.
Height 6 ft 2 in (188 cm)
Weight 178 lb (81 kg; 12 st 10 lb)
Position Goaltender
Caught Left
Played for Prizma Riga
Columbus Blue Jackets
National team  Latvia
NHL Draft Undrafted
Playing career 2012–2021

Matīss Edmunds Kivlenieks (26 August 1996 – 4 July 2021) was a Latvian professional ice hockey goaltender who played for Prizma Riga of the Latvian Hockey Higher League (LHL), the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League (AHL), and the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League (NHL) between 2012 and 2021. Kivlenieks died on 4 July 2021 after being accidentally struck by fireworks.[1]

Early life

Kivlenieks was born in Riga, Latvia. His father died of natural causes when he was young. His mother and stepfather are restaurateurs. Kivlenieks had a younger sister. He fluently spoke Latvian, Russian, and after playing in the United States, English.[2] He started playing ice hockey at age 3 or 4 after watching his cousin's practices. At age 5, he began playing as a goaltender.[3]

Playing career


Kivlenieks played for Prizma Riga in the season of 2011–12.[4] That was his only season with the team, and he only played one game with a 9.52 goals against average (GAA).[4] They decided not to keep him, and he went to the Prizma U18 team, where he played as a third-string goaltender, playing only 12 games, but had a 2.6 GAA.[4]


Kivlenieks opted to leave Latvia in 2013 at age 16 and continue his development in the North American junior leagues in order to pursue his goal of joining the NHL. Kivlenieks was encouraged to try and join the North American Hockey League by Kārlis Zirnis, a coach for the Latvian national team and a scout for the NAHL. Kivlenieks' first team in North America was the Edina Lakers, which played in the Tier III Minnesota Junior Hockey League.[2][3] After the 2013–14 season, he unsuccessfully tried out for the Janesville Jets of the NAHL, and again played for the Lakers, now the Forest Lake Lakers. In February 2015, Kivlenieks was called up to the Coulee Region Chill of the NAHL as an emergency backup, losing 5–3 to the Janesville Jets.[2] In 2015, Kivlenieks was named to the MJHL's second all star team.[5]

In the 2015–16 season, Kivlenieks joined the Coulee Region Chill as a permanent player.[6] Kivlenieks reached Tier I junior hockey in the 2016–17 USHL season, leading the Sioux City Musketeers to win the Anderson Cup as the league's regular season champions.[2][6] He had a 1.85 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, with both stats being the second best in league history. In the playoffs, his team reached the final, but lost the Clark Cup in overtime of Game 5 of the Best of Five final.[6] Kivlenieks was named to the First All-Star team, and won the league's Goaltender and Player of the Year awards.[6][7]


Despite going undrafted after his final season with the Sioux City Musketeers, Kivlenieks signed a three-year, entry-level contract in May 2017 with the Columbus Blue Jackets worth $2,497,500.[6] The following season, he was assigned to the minors, joining the Blue Jackets' American Hockey League affiliate team, the Cleveland Monsters.[8]

During the 2019–20 season, Kivlenieks was recalled on multiple occasions to the Blue Jackets before starting in his NHL debut, earning his first NHL win in a 2–1 victory against the New York Rangers on 19 January 2020. He stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced and finished the night with a .969 save percentage.[9]

Kivlenieks started the final two games of the 2020–21 Blue Jackets season, both against the Detroit Red Wings. On 7 May 2021, he made 31 saves on 34 shots in a 5-2 loss. The next night, in what would be his final NHL appearance, Kivlenieks saved 33 of 37 shots in a 5–4 overtime win. After the end of the season, Kivlenieks was considered a contender for the backup goaltender position in Columbus.[10]

International play

By 2013, Kivlenieks had played for Latvia's U-17 national hockey team.[2] Kivlenieks played for the junior Latvian national team at the 2015 and 2016 IIHF World Juniors Division I Group A and was named best goaltender at both events. In 2015, his team won bronze, and in 2016 his team won gold and promotion to the top division, with Kivlenieks having a tournament leading 1.71 GAA and a .941 save percentage.[6]

Kivlenieks was first selected to the senior Latvian national team, serving as the third-string goaltender at the 2018 IIHF World Championship. He later made his World Championship debut with Latvia as the host country of the 2021 IIHF World Championship. Kivlenieks was used as the starting goaltender as he led Latvia to its first ever win over Canada and also its first loss against Kazakhstan during the group phase.[10][11]


On 4 July 2021, Kivlenieks was fatally injured during a fireworks malfunction while at the home of Blue Jackets' goaltending coach Manny Legace in Novi, Michigan.[1] Kivlenieks had travelled to Legace's home alongside teammate Elvis Merzļikins, a fellow Latvian goaltender, to celebrate Independence Day and the wedding of Legace's daughter over the holiday weekend.[12] Despite playing hockey in the United States since 2013, it was the first time he stayed in the country long enough in the offseason to experience the Fourth of July.[13] During the memorial service in honor of Kivlenieks, fellow Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins revealed that Kivlenieks heroically protected others, including Merzlikins' wife and their unborn child, from the errant fireworks mortar shell that fatally struck him in the chest.[14]


According to Novi Police lieutenant Jason Meier, a set of fireworks were launched off a grassy area that included nine different firework tubes. "After the seventh shot, it tipped and then the eighth shot went over the hot tub and that's when people started to scramble and it was the last shot that hit Mr. Kivlenieks," he said. Kivlenieks was taken to Ascension Providence Hospital with extensive internal injuries, where he was later pronounced dead.[15][16][17][18][12]

An autopsy performed on 5 July ruled Kivlenieks' death as accidental, due to a percussive injury caused by fireworks mortar blast, resulting in a major chest trauma to his heart and lungs.[1][15][16][12][19] Prior to the autopsy, police said Kivlenieks was believed to have slipped and hit his head on concrete while running from the malfunctioning firework.[1][16] According to Novi Police lieutenant Jason Meier, the autopsy showed no signs of head trauma or external injuries to his chest.[15] On 5 July, Meier said that the nine-shot firework was legal in Michigan and the person handling it was not impaired and had not broken state laws.[18][13] Kivlenieks' death was investigated by police as an accident.[12]


In a statement, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson said Kivlenieks "was an outstanding young man who greeted everyone everyday with a smile and the impact he had during his four years with our organization will not be forgotten."[16][17] Former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said Kivlenieks "didn't take one day for granted, which makes this tragedy even more hard to bear".[17]

The Latvian Ice Hockey Federation said in a statement that Kivlenieks' death was "a great loss not only for Latvian hockey but for the entire Latvian nation."[18] Executives of the Latvia men's national ice hockey team and Kivlenieks' Blue Jackets teammate Elvis Merzļikins, a fellow Latvian goaltender, helped the Blue Jackets communicate with Kivlenieks' mother and stepfather, neither of whom speak English, in order to plan out arrangements for a memorial service during the COVID-19 pandemic.[18]

Blue Jackets and Monsters fans created makeshift memorials to Kivlenieks, placing signs, flowers, sticks, and balloons at the entrance to Nationwide Arena in Columbus and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.[20] On 5 July, a moment of silence was held for Kivlenieks before Game 4 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal.[18]

Career statistics

Regular season and playoffs


Regular season Playoffs
2011–12 Prizma Riga LHL 1 9.52
2013–14 Edina Lakers MNJHL 39 3.95 .908 2 4.59 .911
2014–15 Forest Lake Lakers MNJHL 33 2.23 .930 4 1.75 .950
2014–15 Coulee Region Chill NAHL 1 0 1 0 59 4 0 4.05 .902
2015–16 Coulee Region Chill NAHL 29 16 10 1 1618 65 2 2.41 .925 4 1 3 210 12 0 3.42 .893
2016–17 Sioux City Musketeers USHL 49 36 7 2 2991 92 5 1.85 .932 13 8 3 807 28 2 2.08 .925
2017–18 Cleveland Monsters AHL 43 14 21 4 2296 123 1 3.21 .891
2018–19 Cleveland Monsters AHL 14 4 4 1 711 44 1 3.71 .873
2018–19 Kalamazoo Wings ECHL 8 5 3 0 420 19 0 2.71 .923
2019–20 Cleveland Monsters AHL 20 9 8 3 1194 59 1 2.96 .904
2019–20 Columbus Blue Jackets NHL 6 1 1 2 285 14 0 2.95 .898
2020–21 Cleveland Monsters AHL 8 6 2 0 481 18 0 2.25 .929
2020–21 Columbus Blue Jackets NHL 2 1 1 0 124 7 0 3.40 .901
NHL totals 8 2 2 2 409 21 0 3.09 .899



Year Team Event GP W L T MIN GA SO GAA SV%
2014 Latvia WJC18-IA 4 2 1 0 203 8 0 2.37 .899
2015 Latvia WJC-IA 4 2 1 1 241 7 0 1.75 .928
2016 Latvia WJC-IA 4 4 0 0 245 7 0 1.71 .941
2021 Latvia WC 4 1 2 0 248 9 1 2.18 .922
Junior totals 12 8 2 0 689 22 0 1.92 .925
Senior totals 4 1 2 0 248 9 1 2.18 .922

Awards and honours

Award Year
Second All-Star Team 2015[5]
First All-Star Team 2016–17[6]
Goaltender of the Year 2016–17[7]
Player of the Year 2016–17[7]
WJC-D1 Best Goaltender 2015, 2016[6]
WJC-D1 Best GAA (1.71) 2016[6]
WJC-D1 Best SVS% (.932) 2016[6]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Henderson, Jennifer; Sterling, Wayne (5 July 2021). "Matiss Kivlenieks, NHL goaltender, dead from fireworks accident, medical examiner's office says". CNN. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e Bartholomew, Colten (26 May 2016). "Hockey aspirations lead Kivlenieks to America". La Crosse Tribune. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b Svodoba, Jeff (16 June 2020). "Blue Jackets Pipeline Podcast: Matiss Kivlenieks". Columbus Blue Jackets. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Matiss Kivlenieks". Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  5. ^ a b "North Iowa, Boston Win Tier III Junior National Titles". North American Prospects Hockey League. 3 April 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Staff (25 May 2017). "Jackets sign Matiss Kivlenieks to three-year entry level contract". Columbus Blue Jackets. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  7. ^ a b c "Kivlenieks named USHL player and goaltender of the year". Sioux City Journal. 12 April 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  8. ^ "Blue Jackets assign goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks to Monsters | Cleveland Monsters". Cleveland Monsters. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  9. ^ "Rookie goaltender Kivlenieks gives Blue Jackets 2-1 win over Rangers in debut". Portland Press Herald. 19 January 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2020.
  10. ^ a b Ellis, Steven (26 May 2021). "Could Matiss Kivlenieks Become Something for the Blue Jackets?". The Hockey News. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  11. ^ Podnieks, Andrew (5 July 2021). "Matiss Kivlenieks, 1996-2021". Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d "Sources: Matiss Kivlenieks' accident was at Columbus Blue Jackets goalie coach's house". ESPN. 6 July 2021. Retrieved 7 July 2021.
  13. ^ a b Portzline, Aaron (6 July 2021). "Blue Jackets planning Matiss Kivlenieks' funeral as police investigate fireworks incident". The Athletic. Retrieved 7 July 2021.
  14. ^ Taranto, Steven (15 July 2021). "Columbus Blue Jackets' Matiss Kivlenieks remembered as 'hero' at memorial service after protecting others". CBS Sports. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  15. ^ a b c Hedger, Brian (5 July 2021). "Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks dies after fireworks accident". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  16. ^ a b c d "Blue Jackets G Kivlenieks dead at 24". TSN. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  17. ^ a b c Kaplan, Emily. "Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, 24, dies after being struck by fireworks". ESPN. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  18. ^ a b c d e Gaydos, Ryan (6 July 2021). "Blue Jackets' Matiss Kivlenieks harrowing 911 calls released: 'He's not doing very good'". Fox News. Retrieved 7 July 2021.
  19. ^ "Jackets' Kivlenieks, 24, dies in fireworks accident". 5 July 2021. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  20. ^ Columbus Comes Together to Honor & Remember Matiss Kivlenieks.

External links


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