KENNEWICK -- The race is on in the Western Hockey League for the Scotty Munro trophy, the U.S. Division banner and the top seed in the Western Conference.
The Tri-City Americans are in the mix for all three.
With 13 regular-season games remaining, the Americans (41-15-1-2, 85 points) are three points behind the league-leading Kamloops Blazers and two behind the Portland Winterhawks in the battle for the Scotty Munro (best record in the WHL) and the Western Conference's top seed. The Edmonton Oil Kings (85 points) also are in the hunt for the Scotty Munro, leading the Eastern Conference by four points.
In the U.S. Division, defending champion Portland has played one more game than Tri-City. The teams play each other twice before the end of the season -- March 2 at the Toyota Center and March 4 in Portland.
Spokane, 14 points behind Tri-City, is a long shot for the division banner but cannot be counted out.
The Americans play Spokane three times and Vancouver once down the stretch.
"It hasn't been easy for some time," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said of the schedule. "When we get to the playoffs, these are the teams you face. You want to be in a fair fight, and we are getting players back. You want to have all your weapons."
Americans captain Mason Wilgosh will return tonight against the visiting Everett Silvertips after missing 13 games because of a broken bone in his right foot. He was injured Jan. 21 while blocking a puck against Kamloops.
"We've waited long enough," Hiller said. "He's such an impact player. He's our captain, and anytime you lose your captain, it's significant. Willie plays so many minutes on the penalty kill, and credit to Nate (MacMaster) for stepping in."
The ninth-place Silvertips (16-34-1-8, 41 points), who lost 7-2 on Tuesday night at Toyota Center, trail Seattle and Victoria by one point.
Everett, in its ninth year in the WHL, never has missed the postseason.
"This is when it's really tough," Tri-City forward Adam Hughesman said. "It's not easy at all. Every game is tough, and every team in the Western Conference is fighting for playoff positioning. You never know what to expect on any given night."
It will be a little easier once Wilgosh is back.
"The worst part (of being out) is you aren't around the game and in the action like you want to be," said Wilgosh, who has nine goals and 27 assists. "You can't help out when you see something go wrong. It's hard not being with them, especially when they go on the road."
Hughesman, who has played his entire WHL career with Wilgosh, said he has been missed.
"He's our captain for a reason," Hughesman said. "We are excited to have him back. He does so many things well during the game you don't even notice, but once he's gone, you notice."
Wilgosh has been skating since Monday, but he took steps during the last month to stay in shape for his return.
"I hooked up with (strength and conditioning coach) Scott Murphy, and he kept me in shape," Wilgosh said. "I rode the bike, and he had workouts for me. It's been paying off so far. We'll find out how good of shape I'm in (tonight). I'll take it shift by shift and see how it goes."
In Wilgosh's absence, the Americans' penalty kill unit continued to lead the league at 84.6 percent.
"I'm really happy with that," Wilgosh said. "That's my main goal on the PK to shut guys down. Macker (MacMaster) and Hughey (Hughesman) stepped in and did a good job. They know what to do."
Though Hughesman was used sparingly on the penalty kill, Hiller said his PK minutes will be reduced to zero.
"With Willie back, we can make sure Hughey doesn't have to kill penalties," Hiller said.
That's OK with Hughesman, whose talents are better used offensively.
Hughesman has 35 goals and 92 points while playing every game this season. He is eight points shy of joining Brendan Shinnimin in the 100-point club. Shinnimin ended a 10-year drought by the Americans by breaking the century mark Tuesday against Everett.
"I'm not really focused on that," Hughesman said of reach 100 points. "If we play well and have success, everything will take care of itself."
NOTES: The Americans have not had two players with 100 or more points in one season since 1998-99, when Dylan Gyori had 118 points and Scott Gomez 108. ... With 44 goals, Shinnimin is in line to join the 50-goal club. The Americans have not had a 50-goal scorer since Gyori had 53 in 1998-99. Kyle Reeves holds the team season record for goals with 89 (1990-91). ... Tonight is Game 8 of Everett D Brennan Yadlowski's 10-game suspension. He will be able to return to action Wednesday against Kamloops. ... While no Eastern Conference team has earned a playoff spot, five teams -- Tri-City, Kamloops, Portland, Vancouver and Spokane -- have punched their tickets in the West.
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org