by Jim Cerny, Hat Tricks Insider

Nick Niedert won’t be attending the ceremony when he and four others are inducted into the Danbury Hockey Ring of Honor on Saturday, but an important piece of him will be at Danbury Arena.

His heart.

“This is the coolest moment of my hockey career and it’s one of the neatest things that has happened in my life, and probably will be one of the top things that will ever happen in my life,” Niedert told the Hat Tricks Insider. “I couldn’t be happier. Danbury is my home away from home.”

The former goalie, who played for 38 teams in nine leagues during his 17-season professional career, was the first player signed by the expansion Danbury Whalers in 2010. He played in 64 games over three seasons with the Whalers and later returned to play parts of two seasons with the Danbury Titans from 2015-17 and one with the Danbury Hat Tricks in 2019-20.

Part of the reason Niedert is joining Hat Tricks coach Dave MacIsaac, former Whalers and Titans teammate Matt Caranci and Danbury Trashers owner Jim Galante and general manager A.J. Galante in the inaugural class of inductees is the impact he made on the Danbury hockey community.

Niedert coached youth hockey teams at Danbury Arena, worked at Wesco Sports Center in Brookfield and used Danbury as his home base, even when loaned to ECHL and SPHL teams to plug holes.

“There’s a lot of things that happened living in Danbury that I will carry with me the rest of my life, so many unique experiences with people away from the rink and at the rink,” Niedert said.

The 39-year-old, who retired as a player after last season and now is coach for Vermillion County in the SPHL, sat down with the Hat Tricks Insider this week for an exclusive interview about his time in Danbury and being honored during the first intermission when the Hat Tricks host the Columbus River Dragons on Saturday at 7 p.m..

What does being inducted into the Danbury Hockey Ring of Honor mean to you?

“It’s extremely special. When (Hat Tricks general manager) Billy [McCreary] called me to tell me about this honor, and (Hat Tricks president) Herm [Sorcher] called, it was incredible. This is something that is not going away. This is something I am always going to cherish. I wish was there for more championship celebrations, that’s my hockey regret, but it’s such a special time in my life. I couldn’t be any happier.”

How does it feel to be inducted with the Galantes?

“You can’t put that into words how important the Galante family is to hockey in Danbury. Even to be mentioned in the same category is extraordinary. They’re on a level of their own when it comes to the founding fathers of pro hockey in Danbury. To be mentioned on the same evening is … I mean it’s unbelievable from a personal standpoint that I’d even be in the same category. If it wasn’t for them, even youth hockey in the Danbury area would not be what it is. They did an incredible job for the state of hockey in Danbury, Connecticut, and it’s an incredible honor to be mentioned with that family.”

You’ve played for so many teams and in so many arenas in your career, so why are Danbury and Danbury Arena so special to you?

“It’s hard to put into words. It was my home away from home pretty much. It’s always going to be a special place to me, that decade off and on that I was there. I grew up so much on the ice and away from the rink as well. Everything circles back to the arena there, the relationships, the fan base, the teammates. I created lifelong memories and lifelong friendships in Danbury.”

When I say, “Section 102,” what do you think?

“Pandemonium and honesty. If you gave an honest effort and you worked hard, they loved you. If you took a day off, they’d let you know. They’re very honest [fans]. And you don’t find that very often. It’s a blue-collar mentality, it’s hard working. If you brought some hard work and sandpaper, they loved you. If you didn’t, they’d let you know. And I loved that.”

Of course, you played in Danbury Arena as a visiting player, too. What was that like?

“I was there for a lot of incidents, let’s put it that way! They were hard on the road team … and as a visitor, I knew they were there but I just tried to do my job. Had a few [cursing] matches when I’d be skating off the ice. It’s part of it. But I tried not to get involved because I knew all of these fans. I didn’t get it as bad as some of the other guys, but I still heard it. I lived in Danbury when I played for [the Watertown Wolves last season] and I commuted, and I would see the fans [in town] and have a laugh about it. It was never malicious. They were just being fans. It’s a fun environment to play in as home player, but I’m built from a different generation, a different cloth, so I like that kind of environment as a visitor. I didn’t need to yell at anybody because I knew I’d be seeing them in a few hours!”

You didn’t just play hockey in Danbury, you became a part of its fiber within the community. What memories did you take away from those experiences? 

“For the last few years, I was at the rink quite a bit volunteering with the Colonials program, working at the hockey store --the Matthews family from Wesco Sports has done so much for the youth programs and organizations. I was able to meet with parents, players, families with youth hockey and it was awesome to get to see the kids grow up. Think about it, I was there since 2010 and to see some of the kids that started out playing and helping coach their teams and now seeing them in high school, and some of the kids that were in Bantams are now in college, seeing the players grow up to be young men, young ladies, young adults, that’s extremely special. I did have to wear a lot of hats when I played out there as far as working, the volunteering, but I was always excited to do it.”