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Chayka makes NHL history

Jordan Station native named Arizona Coyotes’ GM, youngest ever

By Mike Williscraft

While hockey pundits were scratching their respective heads in wonderment, there was nothing but joy in the Jordan Station home of Terry and Mary-Ann Chayka when their son, John, was named general manager of the Arizona Coyotes last week.

At 26 years of age, his birthday is in June, John becomes the youngest general manager of a major professional sports team in history.

His drive for hockey excellence…that can be attributed to his father who has a major history of high-level athletics on the local level.

He was a member of Grimsby’s Canadian Champion fastball team in 1976 and also served as captain of the then-Jr. B Grimsby Peach Kings in 1975.

His knack for statistics, that was pure, natural born ability, says Mary-Ann.

“When he was younger, he did two things: he went to school and played hockey,” recalled Terry, adding that he installed a home ice rink each winter which was usable 65-70 days per year.

“He was on there every night.”

And that effort paid off as John was about to follow in the footsteps of Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden by attending the Ivy League’s Cornell University on a hockey scholarship.

His on-ice career ended when a back injury persisted and he decided to hang up the blades at age 18.

That decision, while changing his career path significantly, still kept it on a collision course with hockey.

“John had great ideas but he was just not sure what to do with them. He did an excellent job of networking to gather input from some of the best hockey minds on what kinds of statistics they would like to see measurable,” said Terry.

His idea, which took a physical form in a new company, Stathletes, has been built with the help of his sister Meghan and CEO Neil Lane.
When an idea draws the attention and input from names like Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock, the hockey world tends to listen.

He also had the ear of player agent kingpin Pat Brisson – who includes Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Jonathon Toews among his clients.

“Scotty and Mike had ideas on stats that they wanted to see tracked which had never been calculated,” said Terry.

“Stathletes really was the first firm in the world to do this.”

And this is no passing fancy. It is serious, in-depth, statistical analysis.

As an example, Terry said some websites might show 200 “observations” after an NHL game.

Stathletes makes thousands of “observations” for every single game.

It takes two staff members a full day to analyze one game.

While the team thought they had something from the outset, they were never sure as in any market, supply and demand is king. They could supply, but would there be demand.

The question in their collective minds evaporated after a lengthy presentation for an NHL team via phone conference.

“We were doing the presentation as a webinar, which was a bit tough because there was no real flow to it. We could not get a sense of what they were thinking and could not see anything from body language,” said Terry, noting the team had about 30 people in their meeting room.

“There was a lot of silence because when they talked they would hit the mute button so we could not hear the conversation.”

As things wrapped up, the team asked if there was anything to add? No.

The Stathletes team asked if there were any questions? No.

Then, a twist of fate.

“We are all wrapped up but they didn’t hang up the phone. We listened for 45 minutes to hear how great they thought the product was and how blown away they were by the presentation. That was when we really knew we had something,” said Terry.

And the rest, as they say, is history, but current history, still happening history, as John is moving on up and the company continues to grow as they learn how the data can be used.

Clearly it is powerful since, in part, John ended up where he is now after meeting with Coyotes brass in March 2015.

“They loved the company and they loved John, so they signed on with Stathletes and hired John,” smiled Mary-Ann, noting he was hired as the assistant GM shortly after.

Now the company is working with a total of eight NHL teams, as well as various college and Jr. hockey organizations.

Now, as Coyotes GM, John will only have access to the same data as other customers of Stathletes.

“John has worked hard, networked and learned from a lot of key people and earned respect. In my day it used to be who wanted it most. Times have changed,” said Terry.

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