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John Chayka, HBA ’14: Putting numbers to work for the NHL

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  • May 5, 2016
John Chayka, HBA ’14: Putting numbers to work for the NHL

(Left to right) Arizona Coyotes Owner Gary Drummond, Player Nick Merkley, Owner Craig Stewart, Owner Andrew Barroway, AGM John Chayka, AGM Chris O'Hearn

Photo courtesy of the Arizona Coyotes. Photo background by iStock/Montreal_Photos

Update: John Chayka, HBA ’14, is now GM of the Arizona Coyotes. At 26, he’s the youngest GM in NHL history. Learn how it all started. In the article below, Chayka discusses joining the team as Assistant General Manager/Analytics, the business venture that got him there, and how his Ivey education contributed. 

In pro hockey, the youngest and best players are called “top prospects” and when players move up quickly in the National Hockey League (NHL), they are said to be “fast-tracking.”

Both could be said of John Chayka, HBA ’14, when it comes to his career. At age 25 and just one year out of university, Chayka was hired as Assistant General Manager/Analytics for the Arizona Coyotes, an NHL team based in Glendale, Arizona. In this role, Chayka will assist in the overall strategic vision of the franchise, while emphasizing how data analytics has an impact on decision-making and player evaluation.

A recent Sports Illustrated article on the NHL’s 10 smartest off-ice hirings of the 2015 off-season included the hiring of Chayka.

Since joining the Coyotes in the spring, there has been such a whirlwind of activity that Chayka said he hasn’t even had time to process the news. Immediately after coming on board, the team was busy with the NHL Scouting Combine in early June, followed by the 2015 NHL draft, and NHL Free Agency 2015 in early July.

“There’s a lot of work to do. I came in at the busiest time for the industry,” said Chayka. “But it’s definitely an honour to be selected for the position. I’ve thought about something like this for a long time.”

Despite his youth, Chayka is not short on experience. He brings knowledge of the game from two perspectives – as a number cruncher and former player.

Chayka played Junior hockey in the Maritimes before being drafted into the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

When a back injury ended his hockey career, he opened a hockey school to help players improve their performance, showing them video footage of moves they might want to incorporate. To drive home the importance of the moves, he gathered statistics to show how the moves had helped other players to develop their game.

From that idea, he co-founded Stathletes Inc. with his sister, Meghan, and Neil Lane, MBA ’11, in 2009, before he even attended Ivey. He was 19 at the time. Stathletes, based in St. Catharines, Ontario, provides in-depth statistics on hockey players’ performances to help hockey’s decision-makers ensure they have an optimal mix of talent on their teams and to train their players.

Lane whipped the business into shape through Ivey’s New Venture Project (NVP) and mentorship from Lecturer Dave Simpson, MBA ’88, Director of Ivey’s Business Families Centre and also a former OHL player.

While Lane was at Ivey and Chayka was an Ivey Advanced Entry Opportunity (AEO) student at Western University, they tied for first place and won $10,000 for Stathletes in the 2011 Cardinal Challenge Business Plan Competition in Louisville, Kentucky. Lane, Chayka, and other Stathletes team members also represented Ivey/Western and won an award at the Venture Labs Investment Competition (formerly MOOT Corp. Competition) in Austin, Texas.

Chayka credits his Ivey education, particularly courses in Finance or Decision Making with Analytics, for helping him to build Stathletes into a successful business.

“All of the Ivey courses helped in some way. Learning how to think strategically was important,” he said. “Learning to quantitatively and qualitatively assess any kind of vision was helpful.”

His work with Stathletes helped him to make an impression on and build relationships with NHL decision-makers, which in turn led to him signing with the Coyotes. He was providing hockey analytics consulting to NHL teams even while in the HBA program. Although Chayka left Stathletes to work with the Coyotes, the business will continue under Lane’s leadership.

Chayka said his new role with the Coyotes combines his two passions, hockey and hockey analytics, and he looks forward to helping the team to be innovative.

“Applying analytics to sports is something that started with baseball, but it’s no longer in its infancy. We’re now pretty far down the road in terms of what you can do to apply numbers to decision-making,” he said. “Any time you need to make a decision, the more information you can get, the better. You want to understand things at a deeper level.”

A native of Jordan Station, Ontario, Chayka said he is looking forward to settling in Arizona with his fiancée, Kathryn Lahaie, also HBA ’14.