AUGUSTA — Before I started my professional hockey career with the Hartford Whalers, I had the incredible privilege of playing opposite the great Bobby Orr in the Canada Cup Tournament.

I remember it perfectly. It was in Quebec City. I played on the third line for the United States. The stadium was packed with Team Canada fans, and it looked like it was going to be a long night for us. My entire family was there.

My 9-year-old nephew, Chris, kept asking my brother, “Where’s Uncle Danny?” to which my brother would reply, “Just wait. He’ll be out in a moment.”

When the whistle blew for the third line to play, I dashed onto the ice. And at that exact moment, Bobby Orr stepped onto the ice for his first shift of the game. The crowd went crazy. They gave him an amazing, well-deserved seven-minute standing ovation. They literally stopped the game in his honor. When it continued, Chris looked at my brother and said, “Wow, they sure like Uncle Danny.”

That was the highlight of my career.

I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments. My past self knew that I had to set my future self up for success. I gave 110 percent in everything I did. I failed as much as I succeeded. And the hard work (and the hard knocks) got me to where I am today.

Hockey was my first love, and my first job. The excitement in the possibility that it would someday lead to bigger and better things helped to drive and sustain me through the good and the bad. I find those old feelings of excitement rekindled in my new job as director of the Bureau of Labor Standards here at the Maine Department of Labor, where we ensure that Maine’s youngest workers are protected and supported in their first job endeavors.

When I was 14 years old, pursuing my athletic goals meant building a foundation that included education, perseverance and strategy. I’m proud that the person I was when I was that age decided to take those defining first steps toward success. That is something we are working hard at the Maine Department of Labor to promote and instill for today’s Maine young people, with our current YES initiative (Youth Employment and the Steps to Success). Our goal is to reignite in our great state the importance of employment at a younger age so that businesses have the employees they need and our teens get a leg up on their future competition.

This initiative (“State offers grants to businesses that hire 14- and 15-year-olds this summer,” May 30) has already garnered success. Teens all over Maine are taking that first step with help from their parents, guidance counselors, school superintendents and many others here at the Maine Department of Labor.

In today’s world, teens have options. One of those options is to guarantee that they are able to look back on the choices they made five or 10 years from now and be proud of the person they’ve become. Youth employment is one of the best ways to achieve this.

Encouraging Maine’s youth to work at a younger age puts them at an advantage in today’s economy. Dealing with people outside their normal circle, being a part of something bigger than themselves, getting exposed to potential career paths, learning how to think for themselves and making decisions about how best to spend their time and energy makes them more well-rounded, not just at work, but at home and at school as well. And for some, the diversion can keep them from getting into trouble and put them on a more positive path.

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy the long-term benefits that were afforded me by getting into the game early. And I know this. If I hadn’t worked hard or invested my time properly when I was 14 or 15, I wouldn’t have had that career-defining moment in Quebec playing alongside Bobby Orr.

Whether you are a parent, or a business owner or someone ready to take that first step toward getting that first job, I hope you will consider the important role you can play in building Maine’s future. Know this – when you set yourself up for success, that means not only taking advantage of opportunities, it means creating them, too. Say YES to independence and responsibility. Say YES to excitement and possibility. Say YES to Youth Employment and the Steps to Success.

 

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