Actor Vincent Piazza on hockey, ALS work

Vincent Piazza of "Boardwalk Empire" played hockey for Villanova. Frank Micelotta/AP Photo

Vincent Piazza, star of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," saw firsthand how Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) can affect a family.

Piazza's grandmother lived at the home of the actor's family in Queens, N.Y., and eventually died from the disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.

"It is such a mysterious illness. It was very tough for our family to watch as she deteriorated at a fast pace," Piazza said. "I made a vow then that if anyone cared what I had to say on ALS, I'm getting involved."

Tonight, Piazza, retired baseball player Cecil Fielder, retired New York Jets player Greg Buttle, Olympic skating champion Sarah Hughes and others are taking part in A Midwinter Night's Dream, an annual charity fundraiser held by Northport (N.Y.) High School students. The event supports ALS research and is unique in that it is run entirely by high school students.

Piazza and cross-country runner Holland Reynolds are receiving the Heroes for Hope Awards.

Most people don't realize that Piazza actually started out as athlete. He started skating at age 4 and took up hockey.

He played hockey for Villanova but had to give up the sport because of "chronic shoulder separations."

"I got knocked around a lot. I had a choice: have surgery or realize that I'm going to often miss games," Piazza said. "At that point, I decided to just head home."

Piazza decided to push that passion into acting and headed to the stage in New York City. That eventually led to TV roles and the breakout role of Lucky Luciano on "Boardwalk Empire."

"I applied a lot of the same principles I used in hockey into my acting," Piazza said. "I might have had some naive ambitions of making the NHL, but thank God, playing hockey gave me a good foundation for everything else."