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UND hockey team, fans stranded as South Dakota shuts down I-29 from Watertown to border

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UND hockey team, fans stranded as South Dakota shuts down I-29 from Watertown to border
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Between ice-melting sunshine and rain, Mother Nature played a disruptive role in the University of North Dakota men's hockey team's weekend sweep over the University of Nebraska Omaha, a series played on an outdoor rink. And it seems she was just getting started. Snow and strong winds plastered roads with ice and drifts and created near-whiteout conditions, prompting South Dakota to close Interstate 29 from Watertown to the North Dakota border and stranding the hockey team and many of its fans on their way home to Grand Forks. "They watched the highway being closed right in front of them," Jayson Hajdu, UND assistant athletic director, said of the team. The team attempted to drive home after Saturday night's game but had to exit I-29 at a truck stop near Summit, S.D., Hajdu said. Players spent the night on the bus, hoping to wait out the storm, and tried to leave again Sunday morning but didn't make it to the border. Instead, they checked into hotel rooms in Sisseton, he said. "They're going to stay there until they get the go-ahead," he said. A student fan bus carrying 54 members of the "NoDak Nation" also made it through Watertown before bad weather forced the bus to pull off at a gas station near Summit at about 3 a.m., said UND Athletics Marketing Director David Primus, who rode on the bus. Local residents opened Summit's Community Hall to the students, and by 5:30 a.m. they were hunkered down in the gymnasium, Primus said. By noon, Summit residents were cooking up barbecued pork and beans for the UND refugees. "This is pretty awesome," he said. "It's one of those things you read about when people get stranded, but their community just showed up and started cooking food for us." Many of the students had brought blankets and pillows for the long bus trip, and their Summit hosts laid out padded gymnastics mats for them to sleep on, Primus said. He estimated 5,000 to 7,000 UND fans attended the series in Omaha, with seven or eight fan buses traveling from different parts of North Dakota. Based on a forecast that called for blizzard conditions to continue into Sunday night, "there's almost no shot that we'll be leaving today," he said. "I think we'll be fine," he said. "Everybody seems to be in good spirits. We'll ride this sucker out and get back to Grand Forks when we can." South Dakota authorities responded to a number of stranded vehicles in the stretch of I-29 between Watertown and the border, including "quite a few" on a hill near the Wilmot, S.D., exit, said Kathy Redbay, a dispatcher with the Roberts County Sheriff's Office in Sisseton. "We've got wreckers out there right now and highway patrol and county officers. They're all out there," she said. A tour bus that hit the ditch was pulled out and able to make it to nearby Summit, she said. Snow in the parking lot outside the sheriff's office already measured 8 inches at 5 a.m., and by 11 a.m. the wind was "starting to blow pretty good," Redbay said. "You can barely see at all," she said. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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