Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks has tragically passed away at the age of 24. Reports out of Latvia broke the news of his untimely passing on Sunday. Since then, the Columbus Blue Jackets have released a club statement.
#CBJ statement on Kivlenieks’ passing pic.twitter.com/iig3UU7Iwk
— Alison (@AlisonL) July 5, 2021
Matiss Kivlenieks Has Died Aged 24
According to the Blue Jackets, Kivlenieks died in an accident: “The Riga, Latvia native suffered an apparent head injury in a fall. Medical personnel were called immediately, but he succumbed a short time later.” However, it later transpired that Kivlenieks had died from “chest trauma caused by a fireworks mortar blast,” as reported by CBC.
Kivlenieks was originally undrafted in the NHL. But, on the back of a superb United States Hockey League season in 2016-17, he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets. His USHL triumph was only his first season playing in the United States’ top junior league; he finished with a .932 save percentage, five shutouts and a 36-7-6 record in 49 games. He led all USHL goaltenders in wins, goals against average and save percentage, and tied for the league lead in shutouts. According to the USHL, he broke the all-time Sioux City Musketeers record for all four categories. As a result, he won the USHL awards for best player and best goaltender in the same season – a Hart and Vezina combo!
In the NHL, Kivlenieks played eight games, posting a .899 save percentage and a 2-2-2 record. At this stage in his career, he was the third-choice netminder behind Joonas Korpisalo and fellow countryman Elvis Merzlikins. Although, with the Seattle Kraken expansion around the corner, Kivlenieks stood a chance to get a permanent upgrade to full-time backup on the roster for the 2021-22 season.
Being third in the goaltending depth chart, Kivlenieks spent most of his North American career in the AHL. His overall record was 33-35-9 in 85 games with a .896 save percentage. Although, his career was very much on the rise with his best output in the most recent AHL season: a 6-2-0 record at .929.
Internationally, the 24-year-old recently competed in the 2021 World Championship and famously helped Latvia beat Team Canada 2-0; he made 38 saves recording his first adult international shutout. Overall, he played four games in that tournament with a 1-2-0 record and a .922 save percentage.
Condolences to the Kivlenieks Family
The Last Word on Hockey team would like to pass on our condolences to the Kivlenieks family at this difficult time. Rest in peace, Matiss.
*Thanks to sources Elite Prospects and the USHL.