Columbus Blue Jackets – Death of Matiss Kivlenieks a ‘devastating loss … that will always be with us’

During the 2016 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the teams of the US and North Korea were scheduled to compete against each other. A day before the game kicked off, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they had traded star forward Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a result, the US team lost their leading goal scorer. A few days later, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that Matiss Kivlenieks had died in a car accident. The hockey world mourned the loss of the 20-year-old KHL star, who had been a promising enforcer for the team. He had been driving in a dark area when his car collided with a semi-truck, killing him instantly. ~~

When a player is drafted, that player is supposed to be a representation of the organization’s best interests. You listen to the draft pick’s pre-draft interviews, you watch the player in the AHL, you watch him in the NHL, you watch him perform during the season and you hope for the best. You hope that, despite the risk that comes with a pick, it will turn out to be the right one.

Columbus Blue Jackets team has confirmed that the fireworks explosion that killed goalie Matisse Kivlinieks on 4th. The July murder took place at the home of goalkeeper trainer Manny Legace after the wedding of Legace’s daughter earlier in the day.

At a news conference Wednesday, team president John Davidson said the team still believes Kivliniek’s death was a tragic accident, but that a police report will clarify that. The investigation into this incident, which took place in Novi, Michigan, is ongoing.

The Blue Jackets initially said Kivlinieks, 24, suffered a head injury after a fall. An autopsy on Monday revealed that Mr Kivlinieks died of chest trauma, with his heart and lungs severely damaged by a firework.

We said what we were told, and we talked about an apparent head injury, Davidson said. We didn’t say it was a head wound, we said it was obvious. After rushing Kiwi to the hospital and doing everything they could while everyone was there and supporting Kiwi, they clearly did their job and that’s what we learned. To be honest, we were trying to get ahead of him. It was clearly a head injury, and we’ve learned a lot since then.

The team learned of the incident late Sunday night. Columbus head coach Brad Larsen traveled to Michigan Monday morning and spent three days there in support.

Davidson asked people to pray for the Legace family, who considered Kiwi a son and brother, as they were understandably distraught. Davidson asked the same of goalie Elvis Merzlikins and his wife Alexandra.

They were Kiwi’s best friends, and they were with him that night, Davidson said. It is a loss for them and for us, and he will always be with us.

In an Instagram post on Tuesday, Merzlikins referred to Kivlick as a little brother to me that I have always cared for.

I really love you, I will miss you, we played and enjoyed our last game of pool basketball before you left me right after, Merzlikins wrote.

The Blue Jackets are holding a memorial service for the Latvian-born Kivlinieks, who signed as a free agent with Columbus in 2017. Kivlinik’s mother, Astrida, doesn’t speak English. Davidson said Merzlikins, who is also Latvian, and the Latvian Hockey Federation helped overcome the language barrier and contributed to the organization.

There are always a few layers of scary things in these cases, Davidson said. Of course it’s about Kiwi and his family, but it’s also about the extended family we’re a part of, the Blue Jackets family. As an organization, we handle everything from grief counseling to phone calls and texts, from A to Z. We try to do everything we can…. which has major implications. It was Manny’s daughter’s wedding, and all these people were there. This tragedy happened, and we have to deal with it, and we have to do it right. I’m pretty sure that’s true.

Kivlinieks has only played eight NHL games in his career, including two last season, but Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said the goalie has a bright future.

We thought he was a normal NHL goalie with a lot of potential, Kekalainen said. His NHL debut was very successful. We had him play those games at the end of the season for a big reason, because we thought he was going to be a big part of our future, a complete NHL player.

Kekalainen said Kivlinieks has impressed the organization in his short time with the team.

He came to the rink with a smile on his face, whether he was a starter or reserve, he was just trying to get better every day with the ultimate goal of becoming an NHL goalie, Kekalainen said. He’s had his ups and downs, even in Cleveland [in the AHL], but he’s always come through with a smile and a good attitude. Almost every player who has spoken out about this horrific incident has said so. I think it says a lot about his character when all his teammates say pretty much the same thing about him.

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