A brief history of UND-Omaha travel follies
On Saturday night, Interstate 29 was closed, hotels were booked full in Grand Forks and Omaha was forced to spend the night on its team bus parked inside Ralph Engelstad Arena.
It was just another chapter of travel follies for UND and Omaha.
The two programs moved into the same men’s hockey league in 2010-11, and despite what should be one of the easiest trips of the season, there has been no more problematic destination for UND. On Saturday, it was Omaha’s turn to join the club of Omaha-to-Grand Forks travel problems.
As a reporter covering the team, I’ve been stuck in the middle of a few Omaha travel mishaps myself. Here’s a brief history of them:
The outdoor game (2012-13)
Thousands of UND fans traveled to Omaha in February 2013 to watch the program play its first-ever outdoor game at T.D. Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series.
UND won the game 5-2, finishing off a series sweep, then got on a bus back to Grand Forks.
A blizzard hit in South Dakota and UND got stuck in Sisseton in the wee hours of the morning. They spent Saturday night there. Interstate 29 did not open Sunday, so they were stuck there all day Sunday and spent a second night in Sisseton.
Finally, on Monday night -- the team’s third day in Sisseton -- they got out. The team bus went through back roads in Minnesota and got back up to Grand Forks.
UND’s experience was shared by thousands of fans who were traveling back to North Dakota. The Herald’s team got stuck in Sioux Falls one day, Watertown the next. The student fan bus got stuck in Summit. Virtually every town along I-29 in South Dakota became flooded with UND fans.
Spending three days in South Dakota was less than ideal, especially when everyone only packed enough clean clothes to last through Sunday. Although we did have fun betting on rubber ducks racing down a water slide with about 50 UND fans (pictured below).
The illness trip (2013-14)
The first trip back to Omaha after the three-days-in-South-Dakota adventure resulted in more issues.
During the third period of a 3-2 UND win in the series finale, standout defenseman Dillon Simpson became ill on the bench. He was vomiting into a garbage can between his shifts until he could no longer play.
As is often the case in team sports, once one person gets sick, others follow.
The team took a sleeper bus back to Grand Forks that night after the game, but by the time the bus got going, a handful of players were sick with the flu.
The bus drove seven hours back to Grand Forks with several players vomiting the whole trip. By the time the bus got back home, the smell was unbearable, according to a couple of people on it.
Another blizzard (2014-15)
After back-to-back seasons with major problems on the bus home from Omaha, UND decided to charter a flight the next year. It didn’t help.
Two hours before the puck dropped on Saturday night’s game, heavy snow started falling in Omaha. The weather report said the system went as far north as Sioux Falls. The snow was expected to fall into the morning, but once morning hit, the winds were expected to increase significantly.
I knew there was no way I would get home on my commercial flight in the morning. I mentioned that to UND’s operations director, who told me that the team deadheaded a bus with equipment on it. He said I could jump on the equipment bus after the game and get home at roughly 6 a.m., if I wanted to.
That sounded great to me, so I did that.
Roughly three hours into our trip home, the bus driver got a call: The team’s charter plane wasn’t leaving Omaha. After a myriad of excuses from the charter company on why they couldn’t fly, they pulled the plug on the trip. So, we had to turn around and go pick up the team.
We drove three hours all the way back through the storm to Omaha, picked the team up sometime between 4 and 4:30 a.m., then got back on Interstate 29. This was not a sleeper bus with bunk beds on it, so sleep was out of the question.
The bus driver timed out sometime along the drive and we needed a second driver to finish the trip. We eventually got home at around 1 p.m.
Camping at The Ralph (2018-19)
This year, it was Omaha’s turn.
The latest travel adventure came Saturday night, when Omaha couldn’t return home because Interstate 29 was closed. No hotel rooms were available in Grand Forks, either, because a Dierks Bentley concert was in town.
The team ended up staying in The Ralph. Omaha had a sleeper bus with beds on it for players. Some players, who had family at the game, went to hotels with them.
The Ralph’s chef made the team dinner after the game and breakfast in the morning.