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Modano receives prestigious award at NIAF Gala

by Greg Ramirez / Dallas Stars

When you are an elite athlete, you are bound to have an award or two lying around the house.

When you are the greatest, most celebrated American to ever play the game of hockey, you probably have a room full of them. Such is the case for the Dallas Stars’ own Mike Modano, who on Saturday night, picked up yet another accolade and became the first hockey player to receive the National Italian American Foundation’s (NIAF) prestigious Special Achievement Award in Sports. Past winners include the likes of Yogi Berra, Joe Montana, and Phil Rizzuto. Being in the company of such great names is not something that is lost on Modano.

“It’s a great honor and a great thrill,” Modano said. “These are guys that I looked up to and were idols of mine growing up, to emulate them and receive the same award is great.”

The NIAF Gala, which was attended by nearly 400 people at the Adolphous Hotel is Dallas, was the first of its kind in the state of Texas, and a celebration of Italian heritage and values. Values, NIAF North Texas Coordinator, Charlie Turano said Modano has, “Mike Modano has accomplished all that he has with a great sense of humility that in today’s athletes is so rare. We would like to attribute some of his humility to the fact that he is an Italian American.”

In fact, Modano is a second generation Italian American who grew up with a very keen awareness of his roots. Modano’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant who made it a point to preserve the culture and ideals of his home country. That Italian culture was passed down to Modano’s father, Mike Sr., and later to Mike himself. It is something a teary eyed Modano admitted helped shape him as a person and a hockey player. “Two things that I always appreciated, that I didn’t when I was a kid, but I certainly do now are my dad’s discipline and hard work. He was a guy who did anything and worked his butt off to give me an opportunity to play hockey; I’ll never be able to thank him enough.”

No one could blame Modano for being emotional on this night. The last few months have been a time of great reflection and more than a little overwhelming, as he considers retirement after 20 NHL seasons. In his final home game, Modano earned an assist, the game tying goal, and the shootout winner to cap off one of the most memorable nights in Stars’ franchise history. Two nights later, he played what may have been the last game of his career in the place where it all started. Minnesota.

As the sun begins to set on Modano’s career, it is impossible to know if that game in Minnesota was his final curtain call. Only time will tell. But like his grandfather before him, the journey Modano has taken has been an unexpected success. “I would have never thought in a million years I’d be in Texas, getting an Italian award,” he joked.

Luckily for Stars’ fans, he did come to Texas. He did work hard, and he did represent Italian Americans with humility and pride.

He has a whole room of trophies and a Stanley Cup ring to prove it.

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