The Tri-City Americans will have a new face on the bus when they take off for their game against the Seattle Thunderbirds tonight at ShoWare Center in Kent.
Forward Neal Prokop, who broke his left femur last year in the first round of the playoffs against Chilliwack, will be playing his first game.
"That's exciting," said Americans coach Jim Hiller. "I think everyone is pretty inspired by Proks with what he went through last year. He's pretty determined."
Prokop, 20, will skate on the fourth line with youngsters Nils Moser and David Conrad to start the game.
"We will see how it goes," Hiller said. "This is mid-season pace and we don't want to throw him out there too early."
After eight months of rehabilitation, Prokop said he is ready to play.
"I am so excited," Prokop said Tuesday morning. "I feel good. It's been so long since I've known what 100 percent feels like. I think it will take a couple of shifts to get back into it. I'm sure I will be a little rusty getting up to the speed of the game and the feel of the puck."
The Americans (12-9-1-1, 26 points) have been a little rusty themselves lately, dropping five of their last six games. They had a breakout game with an 8-3 win over Spokane on Saturday, but fell back on hard times Sunday with a 4-2 loss to Everett at home.
"I think the good thing is being in a routine," Hiller said. "The mid-week game lets you get back in the saddle and get into a rhythm for the week. I'm glad we are playing (tonight)."
The Americans, Thunderbirds (10-5-3-3) and Silvertips (11-8-1-3) are all tied for second in a hotly contested U.S. Division.
Portland (20-4-0-1) is atop the division standings with 41 points.
"As competitive as it was last year, it is even more so this year," Hiller said of the division. "The fans will see some great games."
The Americans will leave earlier than their original noon departure today because of the weather.
"It looks like Winnipeg out there," Prokop said of the recent snowfall. "Last Sunday it was gorgeous outside. This Sunday it was snowing. I came here to escape this."
Notes: Americans goalie Drew Owsley needs one win to reach 50. ... Vancouver left winger Marek Tvrdon had major shoulder surgery on Tuesday. The Giants will call up affiliate defenseman Brett Kulak for Friday's game in Edmonton. ... Chilliwack defenseman Brandon Manning signed a three-year entry level contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. Manning, who was not taken in the 2010 NHL draft, leads all WHL defensemen in scoring with 26 points. ... Everett's Kellan Tochkin was named WHL player of the week after he scored seven points -- four goals and three assists -- as the Silvertips picked up three wins.