Brad Self is accustomed to dealing with significant changes.
Four years into what would be a stellar 14-year lacrosse career, Self challenged himself by playing professionally in another sport – spending almost five years as a hockey player in Germany. For the self-proclaimed homebody from Peterborough, Ontario, playing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was a chance to develop mentally in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Having a chance to see another part of the world and how they live, their culture, was eye-opening to me,” Self explained to ColoradoMammoth.com. “It really opened my mind to different things and a different way of thinking.”
With Self playing in the third and second divisions of Germany’s Hockey Bundesliga, he acknowledged the crowds were small, but the pressure was still enormous.
“The supportive fans were amazing and very similar to what you would see in soccer matches,” he explained. “We didn’t have arenas that were at maximum capacity, but the fans were super fans and supportive.”
It wasn’t uncommon to see sprinklers going off in the arenas where Self played due to fans setting off firecrackers inside an indoor stadium. There were also large fan-created tifos that covered the end zone sections throughout games. Finally, if there were losses, Self knew he’d deal with it locally, whether at a supermarket or on a walk. Garmisch-Partenkirchen might be a ski-resort town with just under 27,000 people, but the hockey support was intense in the city.
“You actually become a part of the community,” he said. “The fans who come to support you, you get to know them on a personal level. So, I would see them if I went for coffee or lunch, just walking around town and they’d feel very comfortable coming up to you and asking you questions about the team or the most recent game.”
Due to the shortened university hockey league schedule and then the early start of the German hockey leagues, Self was able to be a dual-sport athlete. While in University, Self was able to fly out to NLL games when his University Hockey League season was on Christmas break or the season had ended. One season he finished his German hockey league season to fly home and finish off an NLL season with the Chicago Shamrox. Although he thoroughly enjoyed his time in the Bavarian Alps, Self felt the time was right to retire from hockey and give lacrosse his full time attention in 2011.
After three titles and almost two decades in the NLL, he retired and became a part of the Mammoth’s front office as an assistant GM. It’s another transition he’s adapting to, but he calls it his “dream job” in the Mammoth front office after spending more than a decade playing professional sports.
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of help and support from the coaches, front office and members of the KSE family,” Self said.
That task has been made more challenging by the current COVID-19 pandemic that has severely impacted countries around the world, especially North America. The Mammoth last played on March 8, during a 10-8 victory against the Rochester Knighthawks. With the remainder of the regular season canceled and uncertainty around the playoffs, Self acknowledges the challenge ahead.
“We’re still hopeful that we can play in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s stressful, but obviously big picture, this is bigger than sports. At the same time, however, this is what we do for a living.”
If the Mammoth can participate in the postseason, Self is confident about his team’s chances.
“I feel like we had a team that was going to be able to compete and push for a championship,” Self said. “We’re hopeful we get an opportunity to do that.”
Self sat down with ColoradoMammoth.com to discuss several topics, including adjusting to a new work environment in a COVID-19 reality, players he’s been impressed with and how he’s been able to scout during this period. Here are his thoughts:
[Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity purposes.]
How are you keeping guys engaged during this unique period of downtime?
That’s kind of the focus of our calls [with the players and league executives], there’s still a chance we play in the playoffs. We don’t know when or if that may come to life, but we need to be prepared mentally and physically.
This is another challenge and we’re hopeful our guys are up for it and are keeping themselves physically fit and mentally engaged by watching film…It’s really a motivation thing. Like I said, they’re professional athletes, and that’s our job to stay prepared and fit throughout the year.
It’s pushing yourself and all and all, we can come out better from this. It’s a way to be self-motivated, like ‘I don’t know when it’s going to be, but I just need to be at my best.’ If you have a ‘I’ll wait until tomorrow mentality’, [it won’t help] if all of a sudden it’s like ‘hey, you’re back in three weeks!’
So yeah, we need to be prepared.
If the postseason does go forward, why should Mammoth fans be excited about this team?
We’re 7-6 and last year we were 6-12, so that shows the improvement from last year to this year. I think our fans saw some great continued leadership from our players in the way they lead and conduct themselves on and off the floor.
Dillon Ward, our team MVP, has been awesome on the floor and also as a leader. Guys like Robert Hope, Dan Coates and Joey Cupido also make a difference and it’s nice to see guys like Ryan Lee continue to make progress. He’s now in his third year and is leading the team in scoring. Game after game, he’s scoring highlight reel goals and timely ones too. Chris Wardle has had a breakout season. It’s nice to see that from him, he’s a quiet, hard-working guy. He has come into his own this season and become one of the top offensive guys on the team.
The addition of Tyler Digby, I think was going to be huge for us. It’s already paid dividends in the couple of games that he played. I think he would’ve only gotten better as he got more comfortable around our players.
There’s a lot of positives from a team standpoint, especially having good leadership and lots of good young guys for years to come.
Finally, how have you been able to scout and evaluate talent throughout this social distancing period?
Our management team and coaches are in constant communication with each other, but It’s certainly different. A lot of what we’re working on right now is in preparation for the unknown, which is return to play and also the offseason and prepping for next season.
As it relates to prepping for the draft, we execute a weekly call with the coaches and there are still decisions to be made regarding player eligibility for this year’s draft. Most of them are seniors in University and they’ve been granted an extra year of eligibility due to the current situation, which will affect our draft in a major way. So, there are conversations on the league level on whether or not those players can be drafted this year…We’re hopeful it’s cleared up soon, but it certainly will change the draft, so we have to make those adjustments just like everybody else.
In terms of scouting, there is a lot of uncertainty with the leagues we normally scout, like the summer leagues, where a lot of these players are playing. We will have our work cut out for us in terms of getting video. We’ll have to rely on one another on how well we know these players from past years. We have to make sure we’re getting this right because normally, we’d have a chance to watch these guys live leading into the draft. We may not get that opportunity this year, but it’s going to be the same for all teams.