Minnesota hockey community mourns NHL goalie killed in fireworks accident

Mattis Kivlenieks (left) poses with Lakers Coach Denny Canfield. (Denny Canfield)

A young NHL goalie with ties to Minnesota is being remembered after he was killed in a Fourth of July fireworks accident.

Mattis Kivlenieks got his start with the Edina Lakers, moving from Latvia as a teenager to play in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League. Within four years, he was playing in the American Hockey League, and by 2019 was brought up to play in the NHL. 

Kelsey Witt works for the Minnesota Mullets junior hockey team, formerly known as the Edina Lakers. She says Kivlenieks was like a little brother.

"From the day we saw him playing, we knew he was going to make it," said Witt. 

Witt remained friends with the goalie, even as he moved away from Minnesota and found success in the sport.

"He always would say, ‘If I make it to the NHL, you have to do this for me, that for me.’ And we started saying, we need to start worrying because we know he’s going to make it to the NHL," said Witt.

News of his tragic death Sunday night was a shock to his hockey family in Minnesota.

"His career trajectory was unbelievably up," said Denny Canfield, Kivlenieks' former coach. "So to sit here…it still hasn’t sunk in."

Canfield says he actually took the coaching job with the Edina Lakers after watching Kivlenieks play.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Canfield. "I said, if this kid comes back next year I’ll take the job."

Michigan authorities say the 24-year-old died after being hit by a firework Sunday night. The force of the blast caused major internal damage to his heart and lungs. Police say the preliminary investigation shows it was all just a tragic accident.

"I’m going to miss his smile and his steadfastness and it’s—it’s such a tragic story that this is the way this thing ends because he’s such a light of a human being," said Canfield.

Canfield now lives in New York but has stayed in close contact with Kivlenieks. While he hadn’t talked to him in several weeks, he believes the 24-year-old was in Michigan to train with former Red Wings goalie Manny Legace.

In a statement, the Columbus Blue Jackets said the team was "shocked and saddened" by this loss and that the impact he had during his four years with the organization will not be forgotten.