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No. 1 center role with Wild hasn’t gone to Joel Eriksson Ek’s head. Just maybe his hair.

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No. 1 center role with Wild hasn’t gone to Joel Eriksson Ek’s head. Just maybe his hair.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Joel Eriksson Ek still doesn’t say much around the rink. Though he has become a little more vocal in the locker room compared to his rookie season in 2016-17, coach Dean Evason still has trouble getting many words out of the 24-year-old Swede.

“You can’t get (expletive) out of his mouth,” Evason said with a laugh. “He just smiles. I joked about his haircut. He smiled and looked at me like I had two heads and then walked away.”

That even-keel demeanor has actually served Eriksson Ek well as he has transitioned into his role as the No. 1 center. After forming a dominant line with Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno last season, Eriksson Ek is playing between Krill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello this season.

Much different linemates, to say the least. No disrespect to Greenway and Foligno.

That said, Eriksson Ek hasn’t changed his game in the slightest. He still plays a physical game predicated on getting his 6-foot-3, 210-pound body to the front of the net. It’s not like he suddenly is trying to dangle around opposing players because he’s playing with Kaprizov and Zuccarello.

“I have to be me,” Eriksson Ek said. “That’s the easiest thing. Just be me. Not try to be something I’m not.”

That commitment to his own style has impressed the coaching staff.

“We thought at the start of training camp he’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m playing with (Kaprizov), I’m playing with (Zuccarello). What’s my role?’ ” Evason said. “He don’t care. He’s just going to go play. You put him anywhere with anybody and he’s going to play the same way.”

That line was schedule to be in action for the first time during Friday night’s season opener against the Ducks in Anaheim.

“Those guys are really skilled players,” Eriksson Ek said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can and hopefully help the team as much as I can.”

As for Eriksson Ek’s taper fade that Evason joked about, the haircut is very much in style nowadays, contrary what some of his teammates might suggest.

“It’s gone to his head,” Foligno joked about Eriksson Ek’s role as the No. 1 center. “You seen his haircut? Holy smokes.”

ROOKIE LAP

Brandon Duhaime, a 24-year-old winger from Florida, was set to make his NHL debut in Friday’s opener. He earned the right to do so after beating out top prospects Matt Boldly and Marco Rossi, among others, for the final roster spot.

The news came out a few days ago, and fortunately for Duhaime, the early notice gave his family enough time to book flights to the West Coast. He was expecting his mom, dad, sister and girlfriend to be in the stands at Honda Center for his NHL debut.

“Unbelievable,” said Duhaime, who was hoping to get a few minutes with them after the game. “It’s going to be really nice to see them. It’ll be nice to share that moment with them.”

While he admitted he he some butterflies in the hours leading up to the game, he expected that to dissipate as it got closer to puck drop.

“Once I get in that pregame routine that I went through in the exhibition games and stuff, I’m sure it’ll go away,”  Duhaime said. “It’ll just be another game.”

As for the rookie lap customary for young players to take before their NHL debut, as much as Duhaime was hoping to avoid that, he understood he might not have a choice.

“I’m sure somebody will make me go,” he said.

DEFENSIVE CHOICES

After a lengthy position battle that spanned the duration of training camp, Jon Merrill beat out Jordie Benn for the final defensive spot in the starting lineup. He was set to play alongside Dimitry Kulikov on Friday.

Just because Merrill is playing in Game 1 doesn’t mean Benn is riding the bench for the foreseeable future. In fact, Evason has reiterated how he plans to play both players quite a bit this season.

“I don’t think there’s a huge discrepancy,” the coach said. “We’re excited about having the depth on our defense, and we feel very comfortable playing (both players). It’s too bad everybody can’t play. But we had to make a decision.”

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John Shipley: Change looks good on the Wild

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John Shipley: Change looks good on the Wild

The Minnesota Wild are an almost entirely different team than the one that has been disappointing its fans for the better part of 20 years. For Wild fans, it must feel good.

Forget for a minute how good the Wild have been this season and simply enjoy not hearing about “the young core” or Ryan Suter’s steady veteran leadership.

Chuck Fletcher’s core? Hardly anyone left. Suter and Zach Parise? Gone for fewer than 25 games and already forgotten. The Wild entered Tuesday night’s game as one of the best teams in the NHL and looked every bit the part in a wide-open, 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at Xcel Energy Center.

The Coyotes, to be polite, are not very good. But the Wild handled them the way a good team handles a not very good one. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was fun to watch.

Sometimes making a change, any change, is the answer.

Paul Fenton didn’t last a full year as the Wild’s general manager, but he was here long enough to ask a question that absolutely had to be answered: Why are we still married to Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter?

There was no good answer, so he got rid of them, sometimes for, well, not much. But it was a start and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Current GM Bill Guerin was just finishing his second season as Fenton’s replacement when he tackled the other major piece of old business: Are Parise and Suter still helping us?

Guerin determined the answer was no, bought out the rest of their $98 million contracts at a financial penalty, and it’s hard to argue with the decision. After Tuesday’s win, the Wild are 15-6-1 and tied with Calgary atop the Western Conference standings with 31 points.

“I think that fits right where we should be, where we expect to be,” said winger Jordan Greenway, who scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday and added assists on goals by Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno.

“We’ve been playing well enough to be at the top of leaderboard. So, yeah, I think that’s where we should be, and that’s where we should stay for a while.”

A second-round draft pick out of Boston University, Greenway played his first full season in 2018-19, the tail end of Fletcher’s 10-year reign in Minnesota. Fletcher drafted a lot of players still helping the Wild, most notably blue liners Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgoen and Jonas Brodin and forward Kirill Kaprizov, a fifth-round (!) pick in 2015. The guy knew what he was doing.

But Fletcher had grown so close to his plan that he failed to alter course after it became clear it wasn’t going to work. The forwards he had drafted for his “young core” — Coyle, Niederreiter, Granlund and Jason Zucker — all had an upside but didn’t work as a unit. Parise and Suter had missed their window and became more trouble than they were worth. Still, Fletcher was loath to change it.

Enter Fenton, who was something of a bull in a china shop but did the team a service by taking the important first steps of the dirty work. Guerin has shown a knack for adding congruent parts — Cam Talbot, Ryan Hartman — and made the difficult decision to jettison Parise and Suter, shocking at the time but only because of the money the team is still paying them.

Whatever those two brought, on the ice or in the dressing room, it hasn’t been missed. This is a confident, dialed-in team that is fun to watch. They lead the NHL in scoring with 83 goals, one better than the Washington Capitals and 19 more than they have allowed.

“We’re not teaching, we’re not coaching any differently,” coach Dean Evason said. “I just think that we’ve got some depth scoring that everybody’s producing. They’re all for the most part playing the right way and the same way, and if we do that we feel that we’ll be able to score goals.”

Sports are a fickle business, and hockey more fickle than most. Maybe this won’t last. Maybe the Wild get bounced in the first round of the playoffs again. Who knows? But one thing is certain: If it goes belly up, or is just plain disappointing in the end, it won’t be for the same reasons as the past 10 years. It won’t be because the team was afraid to do something different.

Doesn’t that feel good?

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Conservatives eagerly await Supreme Court abortion arguments

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Conservatives eagerly await Supreme Court abortion arguments

By JILL COLVIN

It’s the moment conservatives have been waiting for.

Oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday represent the best opportunity leaders on the right have had in decades to gut the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which codified a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

If they are successful, it could validate years of often painstakingly granular work that ultimately remade the Republican Party from an alliance of business-friendly leaders into a coalition of cultural conservatives and evangelicals who turned the issue of abortion into a national flashpoint. Even if the justices don’t explicitly overturn Roe, they could open the door to a flurry of new restrictions that would please the right.

Buoyed by a court that is now dominated by a 6-3 conservative majority, some leading Republicans were already expressing confidence on Tuesday.

“We are asking the court in no uncertain terms to make history,” former Vice President Mike Pence, who has been laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2024, said during a speech in Washington. “We are asking the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Roe v. Wade and restore the sanctity of life at the center of American law.”

The justices will weigh whether to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks, with limited exceptions — well before the current established point of “viability,” at around 24 weeks. The court is also weighing challenges to a Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant.

The court could decide to uphold current precedent, could let the law stand, effectively doing away with the current viability standard, or could overturn Roe entirely.

“This is the first time that they have clearly had a majority of pro-life-leaning justices,” said Columbia Law School’s Carol Sanger, an expert in reproductive rights. ”So they have the votes if they choose to use them.”

The court’s decision, which is expected by late June, could dramatically shift the contours of next year’s midterm elections, providing a new animating force for Democrats, who largely support abortion rights and have struggled to rally around a unifying issue this year.

Scuttling Roe “will surely embolden efforts of conservatives in many states to craft laws they think might not have held up under Roe,” William Martin, a professor of religion and public policy at Rice University who has studied the rise of the anti-abortion movement, said in an email. “Conservatives will regard this as achieving a long-sought goal, but it may come at a significant cost, since Republicans probably already have most of the voters for whom opposition to abortion is the ultimate litmus test.”

Still, for conservative activists, the case is a culmination of decades of work electing Republican state legislatures, enacting new barriers to abortion access, and supporting anti-abortion judges, including the new conservative super majority on the Supreme Court.

“Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear the biggest case for the pro-life movement in two generations,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group which sponsored Pence’s speech and plans to spend $10 million on TV and digital ads in Washington, D.C., and battleground states to promote the case.

“I think this is that moment of time we’ve all been waiting for,” said Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit in the battleground state. “This is really the pinnacle moment where we can go back to those days where we protect life at the moment of conception.”

Weininger said the issue is likely to be “crucial” in her state in the midterms, especially given that it has a GOP-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who is up for reelection. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, has not yet made a decision on whether he will seek another term, but he has suggested this may be his last, and Rep. Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat, is seen as particularly vulnerable.

“If this decision comes out next summer, this is going to be a key issue in all those races,” Weininger said.

If Roe were to be overturned or severely curtailed, it would be thanks to former President Donald Trump, a most unlikely person to have helped social conservatives achieve their long-awaited goal. Trump ran in 2016 promising to nominate justices who would overturn Roe — a pledge that helped the thrice-married former reality TV star win the support of prominent evangelical leaders as well as other conservatives.

Trump followed through, appointing three conservative justices who transformed the court and making it easier to offer new challenges to abortion rights: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Roe’s demise would likely prompt at least 20 Republican-governed states to impose sweeping bans; perhaps 15 Democratic-governed states would reaffirm support for abortion access.

It remains to be seen how motivating the issue will be politically. In the Virginia governor’s race — the biggest election of the year — only 6% of voters called abortion the most important issue facing the state, according to AP VoteCast.

The issue seems to be more salient for Republicans. Nationally in 2020, VoteCast found that the 3% of voters who said abortion was the most important issue facing the country voted for Trump over Democrat Joe Biden, 89% to 9%. In the race for governor in Virginia, the margin was much tighter, with Republican Glenn Youngkin winning 56% of those who said abortion was the most important issue facing the state, versus 44% who voted for Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

Still, Republicans have been eager to seize on the issue, especially as they jockey for support heading into 2024.

On Monday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, another potential presidential candidate, promised that if the state loses an appeal in a legal fight over a law that would require women seeking abortions to first consult with crisis pregnancy centers, which generally advise women not to get abortions, she would try to get the Supreme Court to consider the case.

“We have a couple of opportunities here to make a case to undermine and remove Roe v. Wade,” said Noem, who also signed onto a legal argument in the Mississippi case.

___

Associated Press writer Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.

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Authorities: Student kills 3, wounds 8 at Michigan school

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Authorities: Student kills 3, wounds 8 at Michigan school

By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER and RYAN KRYSKA

OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at his Michigan high school on Tuesday, killing three students, including a 16-year-old boy who died in a deputy’s patrol car on the way to a hospital, authorities said. Eight other people were wounded, some critically.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said late Tuesday that investigators were still trying to determine a motive for the shooting at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, a community of about 22,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Detroit.

“The person that’s got the most insight and the motive is not talking,” Bouchard said at a news conference.

The suspect’s father had bought the 9mm Sig Sauer used in the shooting on Friday, Bouchard said, adding that he did not know why the man bought the gun. Bouchard said the suspect had practiced shooting with the gun and “posted pictures of the target and the weapon.”

The three students who were killed were 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, and 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin. Bouchard said Myre died in a patrol car as a deputy tried to get him to a hospital.

Bouchard said a teacher who received a graze wound to the shoulder was discharged from the hospital, but seven students ranging in age from 14 to 17 remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds, including 14-year-old girl who was on a ventilator after surgery.

Undersheriff Mike McCabe said earlier that authorities were aware of allegations circulating on social media that there had been threats of a shooting at the roughly 1,700-student school before Tuesday’s attack, but he cautioned against believing that narrative until investigators can look into it.

He also downplayed the significance of an incident in early November when a deer head was thrown off the school roof, which he said was “absolutely unrelated” to the shooting. The vandalism prompted school administrators to post two letters to parents on the school’s website earlier in November, saying they were responding to rumors of a threat against the school but had found none.

Authorities didn’t immediately release the shooting suspect’s name, but Bouchard said deputies arrested him within minutes of arriving at the school in response to a flood of 911 calls about the attack, which happened shortly before 1 p.m. He said the deputies arrested him after he emerged from a bathroom with the gun, which he said had seven rounds of ammunition still in it.

“I believe they literally saved lives having taken down the suspect with a loaded firearm while still in the building,” Bouchard said.

McCabe said the suspect’s parents visited their son where he’s being held and advised him not to talk to investigators, as is his right. Police must seek permission from a juvenile suspect’s parents or guardian to speak with them, he added.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald issued a statement Tuesday evening saying her office expects to issue charges quickly and that an update would be given Wednesday.

Bouchard said the suspect had no prior run-ins with his department and he wasn’t aware of any disciplinary history at school.

“That’s part of our investigation to determine what happened prior to this event and if some signs were missed how were they missed and why,” he said.

President Joe Biden, before delivering remarks at a community college in Rosemount, Minnesota, said: “As we learn the full details, my heart goes out to the families enduring the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one.”

The school was placed on lockdown after the attack, with some children sheltering in locked classrooms while officers searched the premises. They were later taken to a nearby Meijer grocery store to be picked up by their parents.

The district said in a statement that all of its schools would be closed for the rest of the week.

Isabel Flores, a 15-year-old ninth grader, told WJBK-TV that she and other students heard gunshots and saw another student bleeding from the face. They then ran from the area through the rear of the school, she said.

Authorities said they were searching the suspect’s cellphone, school video footage and social media posts for any evidence of a possible motive.

School administrators had posted two letters to parents on the school’s website in November, saying they were responding to rumors of a threat against the school following a bizarre vandalism incident.

According to a Nov. 4 letter written by Principal Steve Wolf, someone threw a deer head into a courtyard from the school’s roof, painted several windows on the roof with red acrylic paint and used the same paint on concrete near the school building during the early morning hours. Without specifically referencing that incident, a second post on Nov. 12 assured “there has been no threat to our building nor our students.”

Both the sheriff and undersheriff emphasized that Tuesday’s shooting was unrelated to the deer head or any earlier investigation by their office.

“That was a different incident, different student,” McCabe said.

A concerned parent, Robin Redding, said her son, Treshan Bryant, is a 12th grader at the school but stayed home Tuesday. Redding said her son had heard threats that there could be a shooting.

“This couldn’t be just random,” she said.

Bryant said he texted several younger cousins in the morning and they said they didn’t want to go to school, and he got a bad feeling. He asked his mom if he could do his assignments online.

Bryant said he had heard vague threats “for a long time now” about plans for a shooting.

At a vigil at Lakepoint Community Church on Tuesday night, Leeann Dersa choked back tears as she hugged friends and neighbors. Dersa has lived nearly all of her 73 years in Oxford and her grandchildren attended the high school.

“Scared us all something terrible. It’s awful,” Dersa said of the shooting.

Pastor Jesse Holt said news of the shooting flooded in to him and his wife, including texts from some of the 20 to 25 students who are among the 400-member congregation.

“Some were very scared, hiding under their desks and texting us, ‘We’re safe, we’re OK. We heard gunshots, but we’re OK.’ They were trying to calm us, at least that’s how it felt,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, Kathleen Foody in Chicago, Josh Boak in Rosemount, Minnesota, and David Aguilar in Oxford Township contributed to this report.

___

The spelling of one of the victim’s names has been corrected to Hana St. Juliana, instead of Hanna St. Julian.

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