(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun) — Duncan Campbell is one of a record 386 Western Hockey League graduates who has been awarded scholarships this fall.

Now 22 and attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and playing U Sports hockey with the Gaels, the former Brandon Wheat King said knowing the money would be out there was a big part of why he played in the WHL.

“It was nice that for every year I played I was guaranteed a year’s tuition at university,” Campbell said. “That played a huge role in my decision in even going to the Wheat Kings, was to have that guaranteed in writing. Even when I was playing, you always think about what you’re going to do after your junior career, whether it’s to go on and play pro or are you going to take advantage of this scholarship. That was always on my mind, and I wanted to get the most out of school.”

Interestingly, Campbell is one of seven members of the 2015-16 WHL championship team now in school. He is joined by Jordan Papirny and James Shearer (University of Calgary), Logan Thompson (Brock), Mitch Wheaton (St. Francis Xavier), Jordan Thomson (Assiniboine Community College) and Garrett Armour (University of Manitoba).

Campbell said it’s a remarkable number, adding it illustrates how it takes all kinds of players to win a league title.

“It just goes to show that you don’t just need a bunch of all-stars,” Campbell said. “It takes a whole crop of guys playing their role and knowing their role and fitting into a team environment to win a championship. Even with those seven guys, some of us might go on to play pro, but it just shows that you don’t need everybody to be an all-star to win a championship.”

Every WHL player receives a full-year scholarship, which includes tuition, textbooks and compulsory fees, for every season they are in the league.

The other former 16 Wheat Kings in school are: Taylor Green, Ryley Lindgren, Kord Pankewicz, Dominic Thom and Aiden Mucenski (Mount Royal) Mark Taraschuk and Reid Gow (Manitoba), Taylor Cooper and Josh Dechaine (Alberta), Ayrton Nikkel (UBC), Luke Harrison (Calgary), Ryan Pilon (Saskatchewan), Jack Palmer (Trinity Western), Jordan Wharrie (Douglas College), Colton Waltz (NAIT) and Chad Robinson (Red Deer College). Twelve of the 23 players are competing for their post-secondary hockey team now.

Campbell said the scholarship wasn’t a topic that came up much among his Wheat Kings teammates when he playing in the WHL, unless it was the older players talking among themselves about their future plans.

“We talked about it a little bit but it was never a big thing until it kind of came down to that decision,” Campbell said.

Brandon pays for most of its scholarship fund requirements with 50/50 sales during home games and the annual Sportsman’s Dinner, which is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.

Campbell said the program is simple to use. The league contacts the school and pays tuition directly, and then other expenses are covered by sending in receipts for things like books.

“It’s a very easy process,” he said.

The league eclipsed the record of 364 scholarships it set a year ago. After issuing 253 for the 2009-10 season the league hit the 300 mark for the first time for the 2011-12 school year. It’s grown every year since.

In total, clubs will contribute more than $2.6 million in scholarships to WHL graduates this school year at 75 different North American post-secondary institutions.

Campbell, who will have his bills paid for four years, said he especially notices how fortunate he is when he speaks to some of his teammates who played junior A and don’t have the advantage of a major junior scholarship.

“They’re in the same boat as you, playing on the team and going to school, but they have to pay for their school,” Campbell said. “That’s a lot. That’s when you have to think about a summer job and how to pay for it … It definitely takes the edge off your mind so that you don’t have to worry about cutting corners in your nutrition, for example, or you can’t go out and do a fun event like everyone else. It’s really helpful.”

Campbell said he also appreciates the load it took off his parents.

He had graduated from high school by the time he joined the Wheat Kings for his 18-year-old season in the 2014-15 campaign, and admits it was a transition balancing hockey and the books.

“Your priorities aren’t all in hockey,” Campbell said. “You have to split them between hockey and school. Finding the time to put effort into your schooling was a challenge at the start, especially being out of high school for three years and playing until I was 20. But everything comes back after a while, you just have to stick with it.”

He said it’s key to work on the books before and after heading to the rink, and taking advantage of any time he has.

Campbell is in his second year of economics, something he said is harder this semester but also something that he really enjoys. He’s also having a good time on the ice.

The six-foot-three Brandonite has had a hot start to the season, scoring three times and adding three assists in seven games on a line with former Edmonton Oil King Luke Bertolucci and Alex Row, who played with the Kemptville 73s in the Central Canada Hockey League, a junior A loop in Ontario.

“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable coming back into my second year knowing the routine and how to balance school and hockey in terms of your time commitments,” Campbell said. “That’s a big part of it, and obviously my linemates. We’re on a line that’s been working really well this year. We’re all on the same page and play the same style of game. We know our role and have definitely found some chemistry.”

The team, which he also credits for his success, is ranked sixth in the nation with a record of 6-1-0-0.

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