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Nitro, Happy Feet and Fulton lead Raiders into adapted floor hockey state tournament

Mar. 8—ROCHESTER — Jeff Copler has developed a bit of a tradition over his 14 years as the head coach of the Rochester Raiders adapted floor hockey team.

By the time the Raiders' players get to be seniors, they usually have a nickname.

Last year, the Raiders had "Mr. Positive" (Charlie Clark) and "The Anchor" (Will Adamson), among others. In 2022 it was "The Microwave" (Noah Thomann) and "The Thinker" (Stuart Batterson).

And though the two of the three seniors on this year's team haven't been with the Raiders for long, they've fit right in. And they've earned nicknames.

More importantly, they've helped the Raiders carry on a tradition of reaching the state tournament. The No. 5-seeded Raiders will open play in the tournament at 5 p.m. today, when they face No. 4 seed Maple Grove at Coon Rapids High School.

The tournament concludes Saturday with placewinner games at 12:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m., and the state championship game at 2:30 p.m.

Here's a look at the three seniors who'll lead the Raiders into state today — "Fulton" (Amelia Dugan), "Happy Feet" (Samantha Morrissey) and "Nitro" (Nick Degen):

Dugan, a senior forward/defense from Byron High School, is coming to the end of her first and only season with the Raiders. She made an instant impact with her booming slapshot, which is on target as much as it isn't, similar to Fulton Reed from the "Mighty Ducks" movie franchise.

"We call her Fulton 2.0 because she can hit that puck hard, and sometimes it's accurate," Copler said. "We've been trying to get her set up all season, so she can get that shot off and hit it hard, and hopefully it goes right into the net. It might go over to the other team's bench or something, but when she gets it on net ... she hits it hard."

Dugan is still seeking her first goal as a Raider.

Her coach can't think of a better time for that to happen than this weekend at the state tournament.

"We're hoping she can hit the net this weekend and end her senior year with that feather in her cap," Copler said. "She has a big personality and a big shot."

The true veteran of this year's Raiders team is Morrissey, a senior from Century High School. The standout defender has been with the team for five years and has a friendly personality off the court, while being a strong competitor on the floor.

"I've liked making friends with everyone and making the coaches happy, doing what they ask us to do," Morrissey said after practice on Wednesday. "We have fun and don't give up."

Morrissey earned the "Happy Feet" nickname from her coaches and teammates because she loves to dance, and she just might break into a dance when she scores a goal or makes a good play in practice.

Morrissey has had an adjusted role this season, as the Raiders have adjusted their defensive strategy. She was responsible in previous years for covering the entire defensive zone; that responsibility has been cut in half this year, to covering just one side of the floor.

"She has a great personality, a great smile," Copler said. "We just love having her around. She's on the defensive end because she'll go after that puck and she'll hit it hard. She can clear it out of the defensive zone and get that pass to get us going the other way. It's been very good to work with her over the years and to see her grow, and to see the confidence that's come out of her just from doing things over and over again."

And she brings some joy to the Raiders' practices with her dancing.

"It's the biggest paradox," Copler said. "She loves to dance, but when we line up to do conditioning, she hates it, she doesn't want to do it, but afterwards she'll have a big smile and will be dancing all over the place."

Degen is another in a long line of multi-sport standouts for the Raiders.

He's also the first player in Copler's time as coach that the Raiders have had from Lourdes High School. Degen is a cross country standout with the Eagles, and he uses that combination of speed and endurance to his advantage on the hockey floor.

"We nicknamed him 'Nitro Nick' because he does cross country, but he's also very quick, he's cat-like in the offensive zone," Copler said. "He's always in there around the crease. He's not real flashy but he always finds his way to the crease and knocks in some easy goals.

"He's another player who can play both ends of the floor very well. We can put him on offense, defense, he understands the positions very well. He can play special teams — power play, penalty kill, extra attacker late in a game. He can do all those things."

Degen has only been with the Raiders for two seasons, but he has become a go-to forward for the team, along with linemate Braxton Small. The two of them have taken some of the scoring pressure off standout junior forward/defense Andrew Westerman.

"Being paired with Braxton, we are the Raiders' speed demons, the two fastest members of the team" Degen said. "It does feel a little weird going into the state tournament as a senior, given this is only my second year. I do wish I had joined when I was a freshman and had more time, but I do enjoy playing for the Raiders.

"It's very important for us to keep (the Raiders tradition) going."

As strong of a player as Degen has been in his two years with the Raiders, Copler said his biggest value to the team might be off the floor, where his leadership truly stands out. Westerman is the team's lone captain, but Degen has assumed that role, as well.

"He's been so good at — we have a large roster this year — explaining to some of the younger, newer players how we act on the bus, or if we stop at a restaurant, here's how we need to act," Copler said. "He'll just quietly go up to them and say 'we need to stop and settle down a little bit, we're representing our schools.'

"(Westerman) can't be everywhere at once, so Nick has very much been another captain for us."

Adapted floor hockey state tournament bracket