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the challenge

John Chayka’s company Stathletes Inc. was a semi-finalist in the Small Business Challenge contest two years ago.Matt York/The Associated Press

A relative unknown in National Hockey League circles, John Chayka was unveiled by the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday morning as "the youngest [general manager] in professional sports history."

The 26-year-old is no stranger to Small Business Challenge readers, though, as his company, Stathletes Inc., a St. Catharines, Ont.-based statistical analysis company that examines the performance of hockey players, was a semi-finalist in the contest two years ago.

The seven-judge panel ultimately picked Vancouver Island Salt Co. as the 2014 winner of the $100,000 Challenge Contest, sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp., but praised Stathletes for its cutting-edge technologies.

Those technologies were enough to convince the Vancouver Canucks to sign the company to a three-year deal to provide data analytics services in 2012. Once that deal was up, other NHL teams wanted to meet with Mr. Chayka and co-founder Neil Lane to see how Stathletes could help them improve their on-ice product.

The Coyotes were one of those teams, but not only did they want to use Stathletes's expertise, they wanted Mr. Chayka on board, so he left Stathletes to join Arizona as an assistant GM last summer.

"He's going to be a difference maker," head coach and director of hockey Dave Tippett said of Mr. Chayka on Thursday.

A former Junior A hockey player in the Maritimes, Mr. Chayka started Stathletes with Mr. Lane in the basement of the Chayka family home in 2010, using his ideas about new statistical measurements and Mr. Lane's software and business know-how to put together comprehensive analytic reports.

While a laborious process – it takes two employees one day to chart an entire game, watching the whole thing in slow motion – the reports "absolutely blow you away," said one person familiar with Stathletes's work.

The company now has 55 employees and annual revenue north of $1-million, and while Mr. Chayka is no longer with the company, he will continue to rely on Stathletes, which employs his father and sister, to provide hockey data in his new role.

Though his age and relative hockey inexperience have surprised some NHL executives, his friend and former co-worker has no doubts that the insights that Stathletes can provide will help Mr. Chayka make a success of his new role.

"The Coyotes realized the value was in understanding how to find advantages in the data [we were producing]," Mr. Lane said. "That's why they took John on."

With files from James Mirtle