The hockey world is still coming to terms with the tragic loss of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks, who tragically lost his life in a fireworks accident at the suburban Detroit home of goaltending coach Manny Legace during a 4th of July party. Kivlenieks was struck in the chest by an errant firework mortar blast and succumbed to his injuries at a nearby hospital, with the cause of death being listed as chest trauma which triggered major damage to his heart and lungs.
Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen spoke to the media Wednesday, and both were visibly shaken by the untimely passing of the 24 year old goaltender who had his whole career in front of him.
"Our focus has been on family, both Matiss' in Latvia and our own Blue Jackets family here, and we are doing everything we can to support everyone," a visibly emotional Davidson said. "On behalf of my wife and my daughters, who have been extremely helpful, our ownership group led by John P. McConnell and of course (president) Mike Priest, the Blue Jackets organization and I offer our sincerest condolences to the Kivlenieks family, particularly Matiss' mother Astrida.
"I'd also like to thank our fans, the Columbus community and the hockey world for the outpouring of love they've shown Kivi these past three days. It's been spectacular. The prayers and messages of support we've received have been overwhelming and very much appreciated by all of us."
Kivlenieks was with fellow Latvian goaltender Elvis Merzlikins at the Legace home, helping the former Stanley Cup winning goalie celebrate the recent marriage of his daughter, Sabrina.
"I ask that you keep the Legace family, who considered Kivi a son and a brother, in your prayers as they are understandably distraught," Davidson said. "I would also ask you do the same for Elvis Merzlikins and his wife, Aleksandra. They were Kivi's closest friends, and they were with him that night. This is a devastating loss for them and for all of us, and one that will always be with us."
"We always talk about a locker room being such a close space," Kekalainen said. "When you're there every day all season long, it reveals character, and that's the one thing that was so positive about Matiss, that he always had the right attitude, a positive attitude. He came to the rink with a smile on his face whether he was playing or being a backup or just trying to get better every day with the end goal in mind of trying to be an NHL goalie.
"He went through some ups and downs, even in Cleveland, but Matiss went through them with a smile on his face with the right attitude. That's been said by pretty much every player that's made any remarks on the terrible incident. I think that speaks volumes to his character when all of his teammates have said basically the same message about him.
"It's just so sad to have him gone."