'On the right path': As 'Iron-Man' Dan Nimick thrives in Halifax, dreams of CanMNT, CPL titles grow
With the ever-growing demands of the modern game, it’s become increasingly rare to see players feature in every match of a season anymore – much less every single minute.
As such, there aren't many footballers in the Canadian Premier League these days who can say they're on pace for an 'Iron-Man' distinction; just two, in fact: Cavalry FC stalwart Daan Klomp, and HFX Wanderers young star-on-the-rise, Daniel Nimick. The former's inclusion isn't much of a surprise; the Dutch centre-back has been an integral part of Cavalry's backline since 2021. But it's the latter name that has turned heads.
See, Nimick had just recently completed four years in the NCAA system... which means this is his first season as a pro. Ever.
Typically, this transition is a huge ask for any player; the college game has much shorter seasons, and the physical and mental demands are significantly heightened in the pro circuits. Yet, Nimick has made the jump seamlessly, becoming a huge part of Halifax's defensive group. It's why he's gone from relative unknown to an undroppable name in less than 12 months.
He's been one of the CPL's best young players, perhaps of all-time. And he's certainly stood out this season.
GOAL 🌊🌊— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 1, 2023
LATE DRAMA!!@HFXWanderersFC take a 2-1 lead as Daniel Nimick cooly puts away his penalty to take all three points against @ForgeFCHamilton
Do you agree with the penalty call?🤔
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/xIV1fR1cj5
Nimick has defied even the loftiest of expectations, personal or otherwise.
"I'd be lying if I said I expected my first season to go as well as it has!" Nimick told OneSoccer. "I always thought I was capable of it, but the fact that it's played out the way it has is better than I could’ve ever imagined."
He continued: "I don't think I could have asked for much more in my first professional season. Ever since I came in from college, the coaching staff and my teammates have been really welcoming and open to showing me the ropes and helping me get settled in a professional environment for the first time, and I think you're seeing that comfortability within the team in my performances on the field.
"I think that's a big part of it is that I feel comfortable and valued. That's why I'm performing to a good level on the field."
It's still early days, but it's becoming increasingly safe to say that we'll be hearing a lot more about Nimick in the years to come. Interest from Major League Soccer sides will come sooner rather than later. Already, there is chatter of Canadian men's national team tracking, too. For a kid from Newfoundland and Labrador, it may all seem like a dream. But there's something special happening in Halifax, and Nimick?
He's a huge part of it.
A Whitecap or a Wanderer?
A footballer's career is defined not by goals or assists but by choices made and roads travelled.
For Nimick, the road to Halifax had seen him grow well-acquainted with the prospect of change early on. A product of the Leeds United academy since the age of eight, Nimick – born in Canada but raised in England – first got a taste of North American soccer down in Michigan, where he suited up for the Western Michigan Broncos starting in 2019. The English academy-to-U.S. college route isn't particularly conventional, though with the likes of Jack Harrison and Julian Gressel providing recent examples of its potential for success, it also wasn't entirely unheard of, either.
And so, Nimick took in the lessons that NCAA soccer could offer him, even if it was a lighter version of his eventual goal. Two-month seasons and regionalized tournaments combined to see Nimick make 67 appearances over those four years at Western Michigan, where he scored 12 goals and recorded seven assists – not a bad haul for a defensive midfielder / centre-back.
Naturally, it attracted MLS interest. It wasn't long before he’d hear his name called out at the MLS SuperDraft, when the Vancouver Whitecaps decided to make him their 42nd overall pick in the 2023 edition. The dream was becoming reality, fast.
"The moment I got drafted was incredible," Nimick recalled. "When you're a college player, that's the end goal. That's the thing you work for. The fact that it actually happened was amazing. It was a really great moment for my teammates, my coaches in college, and my family."
So began the real work. As he packed up his belongings and headed to Vancovuer, Nimick would now try to crack into Vanni Sartini's team ahead of the 2023 Major League Soccer season. However, he quickly ran into an obstacle.
"When I got to Vancouver, I went straight into the second team (VWFC 2 of MLS Next Pro), which is something that happens quite often for draft picks," Nimick explained. "The teams that draft them don't usually see them as first-team players right away, so they start with the second team."
That's all good and well, but soccer has grown quite a lot in Canada over the last five years... and opportunities for pro soccer?
They're not locked exclusively to MLS anymore.
So it wasn't long before Daniel Nimick's phone rang.
On the other end was the newly-named head coach of the Halifax Wanderers of the Canadian Premier League, Patrice Gheisar.
Halifax was rebuilding. The club had parted ways with its first and only head coach up to that point, Stephen Hart. Eighteen players had been shipped out or released. Nearly the entire roster would be turned over ahead of the 2023 CPL campaign. Change was in the air at Wanderers grounds. Those with ambition could easily carve a place for themselves amid the chaos, if they had the courage to dive headfirst into it.
Gheisar had been keeping tabs on Nimick since his final year of college. He was appointed by the Wanderers shortly before Nimick was drafted by the Whitecaps. So when he called to gauge Nimick's interest in signing directly for Halifax, there was mutual respect. When draft day came and went, that interest seemed to cool down. Still, Gheisar kept a close eye as Nimick began his Whitecaps 2 adventure.
And stayed connected, just to be sure.
"I had a conversation with Patrice, just talking about Halifax, how it was a new coaching staff, and how there were a lot of new players coming in," Nimick recalled. "And then he told me about the setup we were going to have here, and I was always interested in it. Obviously, when the Whitecaps drafted me, I took the chance to go there, as I think most players would.”
“But Patrice and I stayed in contact throughout that process, and he basically said to me, if the first team opportunity with the Whitecaps doesn't materialize right away, that he thought that Halifax would be a better option for me than Whitecaps 2."
And so, after giving it some thought, Nimick took on the challenge and signed a deal with Halifax in February. While MLS Next Pro provided an opportunity to remain within an MLS setup, the CPL provided a bigger platform and a higher level of competition. And, as other CPL players before him had proven, a path to MLS first-team action was also possible.
"It's unfortunate that I never got a chance to prove myself with the Whitecaps first team, but I thought that it might be a better option to come to Halifax and play first-team football, instead of maybe getting stuck in the second team," Nimick said. "I couldn't be happier with my decision.
A match made in Halifax
You couldn't really tell this was Nimick's first pro season.
The 22-year-old has played a huge role as an outside centre back in Halifax's revitalized backline this season, showcasing his penchant for 1-v-1 defending and, more impressively, his dynamic range in passing ability, all while learning each week what it takes to be a seasoned professional. His contributions have been so important that Nimick has featured in all 1890 minutes of regular season action so far this season, at the time of this writing. As he continues to chase bigger dreams, Nimick remains committed to one main goal: bringing silverware to Halifax.
After a slow start to the season without a win in their first eight games (0W-6D-2L), Halifax have been on a tear since, amassing a record of 7W-2D-3L. As a result, the Wanderers now sit in a playoff spot and are within pouncing distance of the regular-season title. Previously thought of as highly improbable given the scope of the rebuild they underwent, Halifax have defied expectations all year long, doing well to buy into Gheisar’s system. Because of that, they’re now eager to finish the job that they’ve started.
With seven games to go... why not?
"Patrice spoke to every single one of the players he bought in, and the players that he brought back from last season, and he told them his vision, he told them how we were going to play," Nimick said. "And I think you saw that it took some figuring out, the players were still learning the system and learning each other, but once it's finally clicked, I think you're seeing you're seeing the fruits of all our hard work.
"We always believed in it. Even with those ties at the start of the season, our slow start, we always believed in the process, and I think you're seeing the fruits of what we put in at the start of the season now, and now we're ready to make a push for that title."
No matter what happens to these Wanderers, though, expect to see Nimick in the thick of it, much as he’s been all season long, as he looks to complete this masterful first season.
Regular season title? North Star Shield? Defensive Player of the Year? Player of the Year?
It’s all in the cards for Nimick, as long as he continues to play them right.
"He's been excellent," Wanderers captain Andre Rampersad said on OneSoccer Today. "He just puts his head down in practice, he just goes at it every day, he tries to play with the midfielders as much as possible, he tries to make things happen on the ball, he's had some great assists, and then he's just ice cold, he can step up for penalties.
"He’s a very important piece of this squad, and hopefully, he keeps pushing until the end of the season, as I think that defensively he can help get us to the championship."
Not only that, but Halifax has allowed Nimick to return to his roots, in a sense. Part of the reason why the CPL made sense for him is that, despite spending most of his life in England, Nimick is actually Canadian. He was born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador while his family lived on the Royal Air Force base there, before moving back to England when he was very young.
A move to Halifax has allowed him not just live in the country of his birth, but live close to where he was born, too. Without that Canadian connection, it’s hard to imagine that he’d be in this situation. In fact, a Canadian passport is what probably opened the doors for the Whitecaps to draft him in the first place, as he wouldn’t count as an international player – ditto that for when he signed with Halifax. As a player out of college, an international status could've been a huge obstacle.
Yet, Nimick isn't Canadian on a technicality. He feels immense pride in his birthplace. Growing up in England, his Canadian heritage was always a fun fact he loved sharing about himself, as he’s always maintained close ties to his country of birth.
"In school, when growing up in England, normally when you do an icebreaker because, you have to tell everyone a fun fact about yourself, so mine was usually that I was born in Canada, and everyone was always really curious to see how that happened," Nimick said with a smile. "I don't have many memories of Labrador, we moved to England when I was very young, but from what my parents told me, there wasn't much there in Labrador, where we were living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, at the Royal Air Force base that my dad was working at, but they enjoyed every moment of it.
"I’ve also still got family in Canada, got a lot of family in Toronto, so it's been good to reconnect with them. My parents were also out visiting for the past couple of weeks, and we reconnected with that family, so it’s been incredible to come back to my roots, to the team that's closest to my birthplace, and reconnect with Canada."
Dan Nimick (22) a player I’ve been watching last few months, very interesting profile came through Leeds academy now at Halifax Wanderers in Canadian Premier League— TheSecretScout (@TheSecretScout_) August 15, 2023
6”2 dominating centre back. MLS and Premier League scouts currently watching him. Will be surprised if Canada… pic.twitter.com/LQDE6E0sEk
He probably didn’t envision one day being someone who could become a fun CPL trivia question (who was the first CPL player born in Newfoundland and Labrador, the 10th and final province represented in the league?), but Nimick’s pride for Canada doesn’t stop there. He wants to keep it going, all the way to the very top.
Daniel Nimick wants to play for Canada.
Dreams of World Cup glory in new home
By the time the 2026 FIFA World Cup rolls around, the Canadian men's national team could look very, very different.
As current CanMNT manager John Herdman flirts with the prospect of joining Toronto FC, the squad that does represent Les Rouges at home in the united World Cup hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico could feature a number of faces that haven't yet been called up. The road from today to 2026 presents opportunities for any footballer bold enough to take it. Nimick has a case he'd like to make.
It's a level that Gheisar believes Nimick having the potential to reach – perhaps even before the 2026 World Cup – and while it would be a huge milestone for the player and the club, it's also not unprecedented. Nimick is looking to follow in the footsteps of past and present CPL centre backs Joel Waterman, Amer Didić, Lukas MacNaughton, and Dominick Zator, it’s not an unrealistic proposition for him, either.
Still just 22, and with the profile of a modern centre-back, it feels like the sky's the limit for Nimick, especially if he builds off this debut campaign. Of course, he still has lots of work to do, as he’ll admit, but given that he’s already attracting links off the back of his play, it’s all of a sudden not as far-fetched as it seemed when Gheisar first threw out the idea earlier this summer.
"That would be incredible," Nimick admitted. "It's definitely a goal of mine. I think all Canadian players have that goal, as that's the highest level in football, and the biggest honour is to represent your country. Obviously, I grew up in England, but Canada is my country of birth, so I would be very proud to represent Canada if that ever came about.
"Obviously, the 2026 World Cup is a few years away, and I think I'm still a couple of seasons away from breaking that first team if all goes well for me, but that's a goal down the line and something I'm definitely working towards and is something that's driving me now, as I would be extremely excited if that opportunity came around.
⚓ @HFXWanderersFC head coach @patrice421 just said that he believes @dan_nimick has the potential to be on the Canada roster at the 2026 World Cup 🇨🇦— Benedict Rhodes (@BTFR17) July 23, 2023
With how he's been playing, and the potential to improve even further, I absolutely agree. #CanPL #CanMNT
"Yeah, there were a couple of links," he continued. "I haven't heard anything about it from people close to me, but yeah, it's motivation. It helps you realize that you're on the right path, but my focus is 100 percent on this season. I’ve said since the start of the season, the best way for anyone to progress from this team, which is the goal for most players, is to work hard for the team, and to help the team do well.
"If the team does well, then the players on the team are going to progress, so I'm 100 percent focused on ensuring a playoff spot for Halifax, to make a push towards that regular season championship and playoff title, and then if something comes out of that afterwards I’d welcome that, for sure."