WHEELING - Matt Schepke went to bed Feb. 2 in third place in the ECHL's Atlantic Division, but he woke up the next morning in a fight for not only the top spot within the division, but also in the Eastern Conference. Not a bad day's work.
Playing in the same division while with the Reading Royals, it was not lost on Schepke what it meant to suddenly be a Wheeling Nailer.
''To get traded to a team that's working this hard and (is) in first place, it's just perfect,'' Schepke said after a recent game at WesBanco Arena. ''It couldn't have worked out better for me.''
Matt Schepke says the transition from playing for Reading to Wheeling has been rather easy.
Finally, something has gone right for Schepke, who missed nearly all of last season because of two debilitating injuries. He split 2010-2011 between Greenville (ECHL) and Bridgeport (AHL), playing in a total of 19 games while recording 12 points (5g-7a).
''As of right now I feel I'm back to the way that I was playing. But it was a very long road,'' Schepke (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) said. ''It was tough, especially being injury-free for my entire career and then having to sit out all those games.
''I was fortunate to have good care and people helping me along the way. I'm finally back to the way I want to play, and I'm in a good spot to be playing.
''I was actually very excited when I found out Wheeling picked me up. They have a reputation of being a tough team, and I knew that they had good guys here.''
Those players he talked about made it a pretty seamless transition from the Reading to the Wheeling locker room. In fact, Schepke said it actually began as soon as he stepped inside the team's downtown Wheeling office.
''Then getting in the locker room you're always a little nervous, but the guys here are really good and Clarkie's a really good coach,'' Schepke said of interim Nailers coach Clark Donatelli. ''It was a lot easier than getting traded to most places, and it was fun at the same time.
That could also describe his play of late. After going scoreless in his first three games, Schepke has scored four points (2g-2a) in his last three.
Donatelli isn't surprised.
''I'd like to see him come to Wheeling here and rejuvenate his career and try to get himself back in the American Hockey League,'' the coach said. ''You come here and maybe things weren't going very well wherever you played, but we don't care about that. We only care about what you do here in Wheeling.
''He's very coachable - a great kid. He's working and he's buying into the system.''
By now everyone knows Nailers captain Paul Crowder is in the AHL with Manchester. He was scoreless in three games heading into Thursday night's action.
But a flurry of moves have come recently. Peter Lenes, who has scored 14 goals in 17 games since being acquired in a trade with Trenton, along with defenseman Jordon Southorn, signed a PTO with Hamilton on Thursday. The Bulldogs, who are affiliated with Wheeling, had a busy day as they also inked former Nailer and current Gwinnett star Joey Haddad, and the league's leading scoring, Eric Lampe of Las Vegas.
Those guy will join Olivier Dame-Malka, who was recalled from Wheeling recently.
Those moves could make it hard in the near future on the Nailers, who also lost gritty two-way forward Zack Torquato for an extended period. An alternate captain, Torquato had the middle finger on his right hand severed at the top knuckle Tuesday night when he was stepped on by Elmira defenseman Mario Larocque, a former Nailer.
To help ease the burden, Wheeling signed a familiar face, Chase Watson, on Wednesday. Watson played in 12 games for the Nailers - seven in the playoffs - during the 2008 season.
Speaking of that tug-of-war that is the Atlantic Division, the Nailers and Jackals meet in Johnstown tonight as Wheeling plays the third leg in its 14-game road trip. That is, of course, if you include the Cambria County War Memorial as a road game, which I do. Any time packing and a bus is involved, it's a road game.
Anyway, thanks to Elmira's 3-1 victory Thursday night in Cincinnati, the Jackals lead the Nailers by one point heading into tonight's action. Wheeling is riding an eight-game point streak.
This thing is going to go down to the wire.