The hockey world today was struck with a tragic blow as news from Latvia emerged that Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matīss Kivlenieks had unexpectedly passed away following a reported accidental injury at only the age of 24 in Novi, Michigan, USA.
Despite going undrafted in the NHL coming out of the Prizma Rīga youth system, Kivlenieks made his way up through the minor league system to the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate in Cleveland, spending time in the MNJHL, NAHL, USHL and ECHL to climb the ladder to the majors. Kivlenieks made his NHL debut in 2020 with Columbus, playing a total of eight NHL games over two seasons, posting a 2-2-2 record while honing his development in Cleveland, and working with fellow Blue Jacket and countryman goaltender Elvis Merzļikins.
A member of Latvia’s Under-18 and Under-20 programs, Kivlenieks was named the World Junior Division I top goaltender in both 2015 and 2016 before graduating to the senior team. Kivlenieks only played at the Top Division for Latvia at two World Championships, in 2018 and 2021. At the most recent Worlds in his hometown of Rīga, Kivlenieks posted a 1-2 record over four games with a .922 save percentage, and backstopped Latvia to a historic opening-game upset over Canada, the nation’s first ever victory over Canada in World Championship play.
Our condolences go out to the Kivlenieks family, as well as the extended hockey community in Latvia, Columbus, and throughout the world, on the shocking and upsetting death of this emerging NHL goaltender, only just starting to enter his prime before his life was tragically cut short.
Photo Credit: IIHF Worlds 2021 – IIHF – HHOF – IOC