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UND hockey reigns supreme among Herald stories of 2016

Team captain Gage Ausmus hoists the trophy after UND's national championship. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 10
UND fans take to the streets blocking off Third Steet and First Avenue after a 5-1 victory over Quinnipiac April 9 to claim the NCAA National Championship. (Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald) 2 / 10
Cam Johnson pumps up the crowd as he raises the NCAA National Championship trophy above his head during the hockey team's return to Grand Forks April 10. (Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald)3 / 10
Newly elected North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Kathryn Helgaas smile Tuesday night, Nov. 8, 2016, at the Sanctuary Events Center in Fargo. (Dave Wallis / The Forum)4 / 10
A protester of the Dakota Access Pipeline stands before a police line on Oct. 27 north of Cannon Ball, N.D. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)5 / 10
Protesters work to extinguish a fire blocking North Dakota Highway 1806 on Oct. 27 north of Cannon Ball, N.D. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)6 / 10
NDSU president Dean Bresciani, right, congratulates Mark Kennedy after being selected as the next president of UND March 15. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald7 / 10
Patty and Jerry Wetterling smile during a lighthearted moment during the community memorial service for Jacob Wetterling at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in St. Joseph, Minn., on Sept. 25. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)8 / 10
Interim UND President Ed Schafer models a T-shirt with the new UND Fighting Hawks logo during its unveiling June 22. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)9 / 10
State Trooper survey the scene where Anthony Fellman, 7, was hit and killed by a passing car after trying to board the school bus south of Thief River Falls, Minn., on Thursday, October 6, 2016. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)10 / 10

The news of 2016 included celebrations, tragedies and shocks among a year’s worth of events. But among the ups and downs, the event likely to live in Grand Forks’ collective memory the most is the long-delayed championship season of the UND men’s hockey team. The Fighting Hawks claimed their NCAA crown April 9 and skated into first among the Herald’s top stories of 2016.

  1. UND men’s hockey wins first title in 16 years

Last April, the UND men’s hockey team defeated Quinnipiac 5-1 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., to capture its eighth NCAA tournament championship title and its first since 2000.

The players and coaches cut down the nets in celebration in front of scores of cheering, green-and-white clad fans.

"I can't even put it into words," senior forward Bryn Chyzyk said after the win. "It's all you want to do for this program because you love it so much. For my last game in this sweater, to hoist a national championship, it's amazing. I'll remember this day forever."

UND had Frozen Four appearances in 2014 and 2015 but lost in the national semifinal game both years to Minnesota and Boston. The year 2015 marked the team’s eighth Frozen Four appearance since 2000.

"Sixteen years is way too long for the Sioux," defenseman Troy Stecher said after the championship win. "Some people may think The Ralph is a curse, and that we're too spoiled. But we're not spoiled. We go to work every single day.”

UND beat Northeastern, Michigan and Denver to advance to the finals game. The championship title came at the end of coach Brad Berry’s rookie season as head coach.

"It's do or die now," senior Drake Caggiula said before the Fighting Hawks’ first-round game against Northeastern. "I think that's what everyone lives for in this locker room. We have high expectations for ourselves to make sure we come out on top.”

"On the bench, when the clock was ticking down and the hugs were coming, I really didn't have an emotion. I felt numb," Berry said. "You always think about this day and what you would feel like. … But it's something that hasn't sunk in yet.”

UND hockey continued to feed the local economy in 2016, too. In October, Julie Rygg, executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau spoke about its economic impact.

“While some of those people are driving in for the games and going home that night, many are staying in hotels,” she said. “Of course when they come in, many are going to go out to eat, they’re probably going to get some gas while they’re here, stop in convenience stores, and if they’re staying for the weekend, maybe even do some shopping.”

  1. Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline draw national attention

On Dec. 4, the Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement for the pipeline to pass under Lake Oahe, north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Thousands of demonstrators protested the pipeline for months over concerns that oil spills could contaminate drinking water and because they said it would cross sacred land.

“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, in a statement. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”

Protesters remained at the camps after the Corps’ decision because, according to John Bigelow, head of the camp’s media committee and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, he did not expect President-elect Donald Trump’s administration to enforce the decision.

  1. Doug Burgum’s primary victory

Doug Burgum won the Republican primary on June 14 for North Dakota governor in an upset victory over Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

“Now with the primary completed, it’s time for us to come together as Republicans, and I’m committed to unite the Republican party,” Burgum said at the time.

During his campaign, which raised more than $1 million, Burgum portrayed Stenehjem as a 40-year career politician who would maintain the status quo.

Burgum went on to beat Democratic candidate Marvin Nelson and Libertarian candidate Marty Riske on Nov. 8 to become North Dakota’s 33rdgovernor. The office is his first elected position, a distinction he shares in North Dakota with former governors John Hoeven and Ed Schafer.

  1. UND gets new president, faces budget cuts

UND named Mark Kennedy the university’s new president in March to succeed interim president Ed Schafer.

The past year also saw budget cuts for UND. Proposals released in April included $9.1 million in reductions to the Academic Affairs division. The athletic department eliminated the men’s golf and baseball teams.

Schafer said the cuts would have an impact of about $22 million in the next three to five years.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the university last faced comparable budget cuts in the early 1990s under President Kendall Baker.

Talk of further budget cuts has continued through the fall. Alice Brekke, UND’s vice president for finance and operations, sent an email to university divisions Dec. 1 informing them of a potential 4 percent to 12 percent reduction of the appropriated budget for fiscal year 2017.

  1. Jacob Wetterling mystery closed

The remains of Jacob Wetterling, who had been missing since 1989, were found in September in Paynesville, Minn.

In October 2015, authorities identified Annandale, Minn., resident Danny Heinrich as a person of interest in Wetterling’s kidnapping after his arrest on child pornography charges. Heinrich initially denied involvement, but cooperated with law enforcement in September and confessed to abducting and killing Wetterling. He was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison Nov. 21.

After law enforcement discovered Wetterling’s remains, the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center posted a statement to its Facebook page:

“We are in deep grief. We didn’t want Jacob’s story to end this way.”

Wetterling was riding his bicycle Oct. 22, 1989, on a rural road near his home in St. Joseph, Minn., with his brother, Trevor, and friend, Aaron Larson, when a masked gunmen pulled up. The man told Trevor and Larson to run away into the woods and not look back, and that was the last time Wetterling was seen.

  1. UND Athletics gets a new logo

UND Athletics officially adopted the Fighting Hawks nickname in 2015 after retiring the Fighting Sioux logo in 2012. University stakeholders voted to choose from the Fighting Hawks, Sundogs, North Stars, Roughriders and Nodaks as options for the new name.

Controversy over the name change continued after the release of the new Fighting Hawks logo June 22, with a petition calling for a local artist to design a new emblem. However, UND President Mark Kennedy said the debate had distracted from the university’s academic priorities.

"I appreciate that the alumni and fans are very invested in the Sioux nickname. … But the fact remains that UND has paid a great price by being distracted from addressing other priorities with an endless debate on the nickname,” Kennedy said.

  1. Arrest in Flying J truck stop killing

Police arrested 31-year-old Grand Forks resident Krystal Lynn Feist in March as a suspect in the killing of Austin Brant Forsman.

Feist will be tried with Modesto Alfredo Torrez, 34, and Lorie Ortiz, 32. Prosecutors believe Torrez ordered Forsman’s killing, which Feist carried out. If convicted, Feist could face life in prison. Prosecutors initially looked into the death penalty, but said in October they would not seek it against Feist.

“(Forsman would) do anything for anybody,” said his uncle, Nels Forsman, in March. “He was trying to be a great dad to his son.”

Forsman’s death has been connected to a drug-trafficking ring which conspired to distribute meth in North Dakota and Minnesota.

  1. Low oil and agriculture prices drag down North Dakota economy

The oil boom finally went bust in North Dakota. In June, a refinery built in 2015 was sold at a loss to Tesoro Corp. It cost $430 million, about 40 percent above first estimates. Tesoro took on the refinery’s $66 million in debt and said the company planned to invest $10 million.

The rainy spring and summer wreaked havoc on crop yields in parts of North Dakota and Minnesota.

Some potato growers in northeastern North Dakota lost up to 30 percent of their crops. Although the wet weather produced record sugar beet crop yields, the Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative announced a net payment of $32.50 per ton early in December, according to Kurt Wickstrom, the co-op’s president and CEO. Crop disease problems and prices for sugar brought down the price by about $11.

Corn farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota also saw higher yields because of the rainy weather, with crops far exceeding 150 bushels in some areas. The yields helped offset low corn prices, at $3.43 per bushel as of Dec. 1, according to the Chicago Board of Trade.

  1. Fatal accidents in Thief River Falls

Thief River Falls reeled from the deaths of two of its young people this year.

Gannon Hejlik, 14, was fatally hit by a truck in July while riding his bicycle through an intersection at Oakland Park Road and Greenwood Street. No charges were filed against the vehicle’s driver.

Seven-year-old Anthony Fellman of Thief River Falls was hit and killed in October by a minivan while crossing U.S. Highway 59 to get to his school bus. The bus had been approaching from the opposite direction than expected.

“This is a very hard, very tragic day,” State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow said in a press conference the day of the October crash. “As a trooper and a father ... I can’t imagine what this family is going through right now.”

  1. Racially charged social media posts prompt uproar against UND

In September, two racially charged photos involving UND circulated on Snapchat within 48 hours of each other, prompting UND President Mark Kennedy to call for diversity education.

One photo showed two women and a man wearing UND apparel in what appeared to be a residence hall, with the caption “Locked the black b**** out.”

The second photo showed four people in blackface with the caption “Black lives matter.”

“It is abundantly clear that we have much work to do at the University of North Dakota in educating our students and the entire university community on issues related to diversity, inclusion and respect for others,” Kennedy said in a statement.

The photos went viral after New York Daily News social justice reporter Shaun King tweeted them to more than 362,000 Twitter followers.

Kennedy later former a diversity committee to study best practices at other universities and report their findings.