January 30, 1999
By Pete LaFleur
Like many competitive athletes, Notre Dame senior Forrest Karr has more than his share of superstitions. A pregame juggling ritual, repeated interactions with certain teammates and visualization techniques are just part of his ever-expanding routine.
But there's more to the Irish netminder than just quirky superstitions, as the Academic All-America candidate has travelled a unique career path while emerging as one of the top goaltenders in the talented Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
If any Notre Dame player was the "X factor" heading into the season, it was Karr, who was looking to replace four-year starter Matt Eisler at a position which has a significant impact on the won-loss record. Karr, who has played all but 89 minutes for the Irish this season, has responded by turning in consistently solid showings. His 2.56 season goals-against average is on pace to challenge the Irish record of 2.70, set by Eisler in 1997-98, while his .901 save percentage ranks third all-time at Notre Dame.
"Forrest has really been a steadying influence," said Irish head coach Dave Poulin. "He has a great handle on the mental aspect of his position-he knows it's a long season and won't let himself get too high or too low."
Such mental strength was apparent during two of Notre Dame's biggest challenges of the season-a Nov. 6 game at then-No. 1 Boston College and the recent series at top-ranked North Dakota. In the game at BC, the Eagles scored three times in a three-minute stretch to forge a 5-5 tie with 11 minutes still left to play. But Karr-a six-time Notre Dame Dean's List student who carries a 3.73 cumulative GPA as a finance major-stayed focused and the Irish emerged with a hard-fought tie. After the game, Karr met with the media and showed the mature perspective that can be so vital to his position. "Forrest was great, because he didn't let himself get off his game," recalls Irish captain Brian Urick. "Some goalies would get really down in that situation and a lot of people thought BC was going to just keep scoring. Forrest proved them wrong."
Karr faced a different challenge at North Dakota, when he was pulled seven minutes into the first game after allowing four goals. The next night, his 35 saves helped the Irish post a stunning 4-3 reversal. Urick admits that the Irish didn't know what to expect this season from Karr, whose pregame rituals have included slicking his hair straight back prior to every period.
"Forrest had some good games his first three years but being a full-time starter is different," sayss Urick. "In the first game of the year, we're getting ready to play at Wisconsin and I look over and see Forrest combing back his hair. I was thinking, 'Geez, is he going to be ready to play?' He's there combing his hair trying to look 'sweet' and we're about to play this big game. But that was just part of him getting mentally ready ... and it's worked all year. He has great focus and pride in everything he does." While most youth goaltenders are eased into the position, Karr has spent virtually his entire playing career between the pipes. As a six-year old in Baraboo, Wis., Karr was in the midst of the third hockey game he had ever played when fate landed him at the position he has occupied for the last 16 years.
"We didn't have any indoor rinks, so we were playing at an outdoor rink and I was off to the side," remembers Karr. "Our goalie was getting pretty cold and they needed someone else, so I put on the pads and went in. And I've never gone back to being a skater-I guess I was just meant to be a goalie."
Karr's early interest in hockey was fueled by the success of the 1980 USA Olympic team and he played with the Madison Capitols bantam-level travelling team, coached by Team USA member Bob Suter. Prior to his junior year, Karr transferred from Waunakee High School (a public school that did not sponsor hockey) to Edgewood, a private school with one of the state's top hockey programs.
Karr helped Edgewood capture the state title and was selected by the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League. But rather than spending his final year of high school playing hockey in another state, Karr elected to return to Waunakee in order to graduate with his class.
But, as fate would have it, the local USHL team-the Wisconsin Capitols-had just completed an extensive tryout camp that produced three goalies from a pool of over 20 and wanted to add a local goalie for full scrimmaging capability. The Capitols asked the Musketeers if they would release Karr's rights and Sioux City let Karr go to his home-state team, where Karr's strong play would eventually lead to a scholarship offer from Notre Dame.
Karr played for the dismal Capitols during his senior year and returned to the team the next season, when his play was the highlight for a struggling team that went 10-37-1. Karr faced a staggering average of 40 shots per game yet posted a solid .890 save percentage. And he caught the eye of Notre Dame assistant coach Tom Carroll, who coordinates the Irish program's recruiting effort.
"What struck me most about Forrest was his poise and competitiveness," recalls Carroll. "He had a great attitude and was a great leader for that team, even though they were losing a lot." Although the Irish already had two returning goaltenders-Eisler and senior-to-be Wade Salzman-for the 1995-96 season, Carroll sensed that Karr was a player worth pursuing. "I was very impressed with Forrest and his family," says Carroll. "He was very focused on his goals and knew what he wanted."
Karr's decision to attend Notre Dame was made on that very trip, highlighted by a visit with Carroll to the famed Hesburgh Library. "We went to the top of the library and looked down on the campus. It was a memorable experience and I loved the campus," remembers Karr. "It was during a break, there weren't many students around, but I told my dad this was the place for me. And I wouldn't change anything-it's been a great experience."