Columbus Blue Jackets Matiss Kivlenieks die in accident

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Life is fragile.

Unfortunately, we are reminded of this too often. This kind of news is usually featured in the first two sections of the newspaper, on news websites, or in Block A of local news broadcasts.

Sport, for most people, is – or was – an escape; a way to forget about the world’s problems and enjoy the most basic form of entertainment – interpersonal competition.

On Monday, the hockey community received a shock of sad reality when the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that goaltending top prospect Matiss Kivlenieks, who recently played for the Latvian national team at the 2021 IIHF World Championship, passed away. suddenly, “following a tragic accident. “

Police first told The Associated Press that Kivlenieks, 24, escaped a hot tub after a fireworks accident, slipped and hit his head against concrete. An autopsy later on Monday revealed that Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from the explosion of a firework mortar.

“We are shocked and saddened by the loss of Matiss Kivlenieks, and we offer our deepest condolences to his mother, Astrida, family and friends during this devastating time,” said Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson. . “Kivi was an exceptional young man who greeted everyone every day with a smile and the impact he had during his four years with our organization will not be forgotten. “

Twenty four. Years. Old woman.

There is something about the death of someone younger than you that makes you cringe. In the immediate sense, it reminds you of how fragile your own life is. But also, you cry for those who knew the young man. You mourn the untapped potential that comes with them and the number of “what ifs” that will be buried alongside them.

What’s important to remember, however, is that you don’t cry alone. These feelings are not unique to you, and no matter how you feel, there are others who share your grief.

Everyone has been touched by a tragedy that bites a little harder than others. My first was the death of a high school golf teammate the summer before my senior year in a senseless and preventable car-pedestrian collision. His career goals mirrored mine, but I was the only one of us who was fortunate enough to pursue those goals. It’s unfair, that’s for sure.

Covering hockey for so many years, the number of tragedies like the one in Kivlenieks is a disproportionate burden on the hockey family. It is not necessarily true, but it is like that.

There have been large-scale disasters: the Swift Current Broncos bus crash in 1986; the plane crash of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2011; and the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash immediately comes to mind.

But smaller-scale, and sometimes less publicized, tragedies affect the community in more subtle and perhaps more dangerous ways, as so many young men and women are silently affected.

Whether it’s 16-year-old Jonathan Boyd on trial for a junior team who collapsed on the ice during trials in Bathurst, New Brunswick, in 2013; or Luc Bourdon, a promising 21-year-old NHL prospect, killed in an offseason motorcycle accident near his hometown in 2008; or Timur Faizutdinov, the 19-year-old Russian junior player who died after being hit in the head by a puck during a game last March …

… Or Steve Chiasson, the 32-year-old Hurricanes defenseman who died in a car crash in 1999.

Each of these premature deaths weighs on their respective communities. But they shouldn’t – and don’t cry – alone.

Hockey is a brotherhood. Of course, it has its pitfalls. There are parts of sports history – as with any sort of history – that are less than flattering. Part of evolving sport – and life – is accepting these unflattering moments and striving to do better in the future, making sure not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

One thing the hockey community has always been good at is caring for their loved ones in times of mourning. Sport lends itself to family relationships. Through junior and / or college hockey, players develop friendships and bonds with people in and around the game, but also with those outside – host families, special fans. This extensive network is part of what makes the community so strong.

The players themselves form bonds of friendship and camaraderie as strong as any bond formed in any other team sport. Equipment managers, athletic therapists, coaches, players, reception staff, it doesn’t matter.

And so, as news of another young life ended far too soon permeates the hockey landscape, it’s important to remember, for those directly affected: you don’t cry alone.

I have never met Matiss Kivlenieks, but I know at least two people who have. And I cry beside them.

We cry because we are family, blood hockey parents who know firsthand the hours of hard work and sweat fairness that have already gone into this young man’s career, just for the chance to play a sport we all love.

We cry because it could have happened here; because it happened here. And we know it.

The family was marked.

But like any hockey player worth their weight in pucks, this family will get up from the ice, brush off shavings from their jersey, adjust their helmet, dig and continue to skate forward.

Life is fragile.

But hockey’s family ties are indestructible.

Justin is a 20-year veteran sports journalist with stops in Lewiston, Maine (Sun Journal) and Boston (Boston Herald). Proud husband and father of twins, Pelletier is a graduate of Boston University and a member of the prestigious Mafia of Sports Editors Jack Falla. It has won dozens of state and national sports writing and publishing awards spanning prep, college, and professional leagues.

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