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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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MN COVID patient transferred from Coon Rapids hospital dies in Texas

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MN COVID patient transferred from Coon Rapids hospital dies in Texas

An unvaccinated COVID patient who was transferred from Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids to a hospital in Texas has died.

Scott Quiner, 55, of Buffalo, died Saturday morning in an unnamed hospital in Houston, Texas, according to media reports.

Anne and Scott Quiner (Courtesy of the Quiner family)

Quiner’s illness generated news stories nationwide, after his wife Anne Quiner fought plans to remove a ventilator which she said was keeping him alive. The story was picked up by conservative news outlets, which said the Minnesota hospital deliberately mistreated Quiner to punish him for being unvaccinated.

Quiner tested positive for COVID in October. His wife said he was critically ill while at Mercy Hospital. On Nov. 6, he was put on a ventilator and transferred to intensive care.

She said that Mercy Hospital intended to remove the ventilator on Jan. 13, and said that the hospital was not exploring alternative treatments for COVID.

According to the website Red Voice Media, “Anne begged them to try other methods, such as Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine and increasing vitamins and doctors there refused.” Those methods have not been approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Anoka County District Court granted an order to have him transferred to a hospital in Texas, and he was moved there last weekend. In court documents, she asked that the hospital not be identified.

Last week, Quiner attorney Marjorie Holsten said, “What we are showing the world is that Scott was near death because of the protocols used” at Mercy Hospital.

Allina Health, which owns Mercy Hospital, emailed this statement Saturday: “We are saddened to hear about the passing of Scott Quiner and our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and loved ones. His passing marks yet another very sad moment as collectively we continue to face the devastating effects of the pandemic.”

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James Karnik nets career high in Boston College win over Virginia Tech

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James Karnik nets career high in Boston College win over Virginia Tech

Boston College center James Karnik enjoyed a career game Saturday that featured a milestone moment in a huge conference victory.

The 6-9, 245-pound, senior from Surrey, British Columbia, shot 10-of-12 from the floor with a trey and five free throws for a career high 26 points to lift BC to a 68-63 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday at Conte Forum. Karnik, who transferred from Lehigh last season, punctuated his performance by scoring the 1,000th point of his college career.

“I had it in the back of my mind but once I started to play, I completely forgot,” said Karnik. “It feels great and I’m really excited to keep making the strides you keep on having to make in basketball.”

Despite a dismal start, BC shot 48.1% from the floor with four from downtown and dominated Tech on the boards, 38-23. Guard Makai Ashton-Langford added 18 points with three assists and four rebounds. Keve Aluma led the Hokies with 21 points.

BC improved to 8-8 and 3-4 in the ACC while the Hokies dropped to 10-8 and 2-4. The Eagles play their next two games in North Carolina at Wake Forest and UNC.

“We’ve been together for six months so every day we are learning about each other and we are on a journey right now,” said BC first year head coach Earl Grant. “We are still in pursuit of being a good team and we are making some strides.

“I’m starting to see more from a competitive spirit and a connectedness.”

Karnik opened the second half with consecutive power plays in the paint to give the Eagles their first lead, 35-33, with 18:06 on the clock. Karnik scored nine of BC’s first 11 points of the second half and netted his 1,000th on a step back three from the top of the key with 14:39 to play.

“We’ve had some times where our energy has been down at the start of the half so our emphasis for this game was when it starts, we are going right into it,” said Karnik. “That is exactly what we did, we wanted to attack and keep attacking inside.”

The lead would change hands four times with two ties during a busy stretch prior to the second media timeout. Ashton-Langford would bury and three and drive the lane to put BC up 51-46 with 11:36 to play.

Karnik made a pair of nice plays in the paint and DeMarr Langford Jr. nailed a trey to give BC a 59-56 lead into the third media timeout. Tech guard Storm Murphy cut BC’s lead to 64-63 on a baseline drive, but the Eagles retaliated with a drive by Jaeden Zachary and two from the line by T.J. Bickerstaff for the final points of the game.

“I thought he (Bickerstaff) did a really good job getting some second chance possessions where he kicked it out,” said Grant. “I don’t think the stat sheet would be indicative of how he played but he was impactful down the stretch and those free throws at the end, it was nice to see them go in.”

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Think your home value is soaring? Talk to a farmer.

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Think your home value is soaring? Talk to a farmer.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Fourth-generation corn and soybean farmer Jeff Frank doesn’t feel rich, but simply based on the skyrocketing value of his land in northwest Iowa, it’s an apt way to describe him, even if he laughs at the idea.

He lives in the same nearly century-old house, grows veggies in the family garden and shops at the same grocery store about 15 miles (24 kilometers) down the road. “We live the same way we have all of our lives,” he said.

Still, even if Frank’s life hasn’t changed, the several hundred acres he owns about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northwest of Des Moines have suddenly made him worth millions of dollars.

It may come as a surprise to city dwellers excited by their home values that countless farmers like Frank are actually experiencing a real estate boom that makes residential prices pale in comparison. While median existing-home prices rose by 15.8% in the U.S. last year, farmland values went up about double that rate in places like Iowa.

“I’m definitely surprised by the magnitude,” said Wendong Zhang, an economist at Iowa State University who oversees an annual farmland value survey.

The rising values, especially in the Midwest, are due to high prices being paid for the key commodity crops of corn and soybeans, plentiful harvests in recent years coupled with low interest rates and optimism the good times will continue.

But they’re a mixed blessing. They’re enriching farmers who already have a lot of land, but making it much harder for small operators or younger farmers starting out to get land unless they happen to inherit it.

Most purchases are by operations that see the value of larger scale, seizing the chance to buy nearby land.

“If you miss this opportunity, you may not get another chance,” Zhang said, describing the current mood.

As for consumers, higher land costs typically don’t affect grocery prices.

Historically, farmland values rise and fall, but in the past couple decades they have mostly risen, and in the past year they have risen a lot — 33% in Frank’s part of the state and 29% throughout Iowa, one of the nation’s top agricultural states. Agricultural prices also have soared elsewhere in the Midwest and have climbed in most other parts of the country, too.

Federal Reserve Banks in Chicago and Kansas City reported double-digit increases in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri and Nebraska.

In Iowa, average farmland has risen from $7,559 an acre in 2020 to $9,751 an acre in 2021.

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