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Death of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender hits closer to home for two IndyCar drivers

Josef Newgarden holds off Marcus Ericsson to win at Mid-Ohio and deliver Team Penske's first IndyCar Series win of the season.

The unexpected death of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Matiss Kivlenieks hit home in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock, where Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal had connections to the late NHL goalie.

Rossi hung out June 29 with Kivlenieks at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a few days ahead of Rossi practicing, qualifying and racing at the track that played host to the 10th race of the season (the Honda Indy 200 was won by Josef Newgarden).

In part to promote his recently announced return to the Baja 1000 in a Honda Ridgeline later this year (his third start in the prestigious event and the first since 2019), Rossi took Kivlenieks and Blue Jackets teammate Elvis Merzlikins for rides in the off-road truck around the sprawling property.

“This hits hard. Prayers to the family and team,” Rossi tweeted in response to the news.

Graham Rahal, who considers Columbus, Ohio, as a hometown, also tweeted his condolences about Kivlenieks’ death, calling it “Terrible. Terrible, news. RIP Kivi. What a sad day for his family and the entire hockey community.”

Rahal is a big Blue Jackets fan who often tweets about the team’s games and playoff runs.

Kivlenieks, 24, died from chest trauma following a Fourth of July fireworks accident in Novi, Michigan. The Oakland County medical examiner determined the death was caused by a fireworks mortar blast. Police earlier had said it was due to a fall.

“[T]he mortar-style firework tilted slightly and started to fire toward people nearby Sunday night,” according to the Associated Press. “The 24-year-old Kivleniek was in a hot tub and tried to get clear with several other people, police Lt. Jason Meier said.

Kivlenieks also played for the Latvian national team, playing four games in the IIHF World Championship in May (including a shutout of Canada in the opening game).