WHEELING - Wheeling Nailers defenseman Carl Sneep says the club is ready to make a move in the ECHL Atlantic Division standings. It's a good thing, because three divisional games are on the docket this weekend.
The Nailers (13-12-6 - 32) welcome the Trenton Titans (14-13-4 - 32) at 7 on Friday and Saturday nights at WesBanco Arena, then board the bus to Reading for a 4:05 p.m. skate against the first-place Royals (23-7-2 - 48) on Sunday.
''We fought our way back into the thing and we have a chance to make some moves and keep climbing,'' Sneep said following practice Thursday. ''We're getting to approximately the halfway point of the year, and I think we're getting to the point where it's past trying to learn from mistakes.
''From here on out they start meaning a little bit more.''
Maybe not in the short term, Sneep conceded. But it certainly will have an effect on where things stand both physically and mentally as the season begins to wind down.
''When it gets to the end of the year and it's at the point you need to win these games, establishing dominance and beating teams now, that will lead to more confidence down the road,'' Sneep said. ''If you lose to teams now, when you get to the end of the year and you've been beaten by these teams and they have a winning record against you (it's tough).''
Coach Clark Donatelli has poured over the Nailers' most recent game, a 3-2 home loss to Elmira on New Year's Eve. That defeat snapped a string of six consecutive Wheeling victories on home ice.
''Watching the game on tape, I think it was a little better than what I expected,'' Donatelli said. ''In our division it's tight. Teams are all pretty evenly matched and anyone can beat anyone on any given night.
''A lot of points here, and especially in the division they mean a lot.''
Donatelli pointed to last year's standings when a victory or loss here or there ultimately made the difference in which teams went to the playoffs and which ones stayed home.
''If history repeats itself, it's all going to be one or two points for us to make the playoffs - I think it came down to that here last year,'' the coach said. ''The conference is really tight.''
To illustrate Donatelli's point, the Nailers are in 11th place in the East - top eight make the postseason - but are only nine out of fourth.
Around the ECHL
Yannick Tifu of the Royals has been named the Reebok Hockey ECHL Player of the Month for December. Tifu scored eight goals, added eight assists and was a plus-7, helping the Royals to a 10-0-1 record.
The 28-year-old scored at least one point in 10 of his 11 games and tallied multiple points on five occasions.
Wheeling's Luke Pither (14 gp, 7g, 10a, 17 pts) was one of three runner-ups.
Meanwhile, Trenton forward Marcel Noebels is the Reebok Hockey ECHL Rookie of the Month. The 20-year-old scored nine goals and added 12 assists for 21 points in 14 games, as the Titans went 7-4-3.
Noebels tallied at least one point in 12 of 14 games and had five multi-point games, including four points (3g-1a) in a 7-6 victory against Elmira on Dec. 1.