Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort-Mt. Pleasant, MI Recap

Former NFL player stars at HPT final table

Mt Pleasant, MI- By all appearances, Eric Stocz seems to have a charmed life.  A standout high school athlete, Stocz advanced to Westminster College in Pennsylvania, helping his team win a NAIA National Championship in 1995.  Becoming the only Westminster College alum to make the National Football League, he played tight end for the nearby Detroit Lions.  After a few years in the NFL, Stocz set his sights on a business career, starting his own production company as well as a Detroit-area youth camp.   The West Bloomfield man’s success continued on the set of the nationally-televised Heartland Poker Tour, where he won a championship worth $117,295 at Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

“It was definitely my day,” said Stocz, “I’ve never had better cards than I did at tonight’s final table.”

Stocz, who cashed four times in seven previous HPT attempts, made the best of his good fortune.  With a series of incredible cards including pocket aces three times, pocket kings, and pocket queens, it was Stocz’s pocket fives against ace-queen that scored the final touchdown. 

“I really love HPT events,” continued Stocz, “I always meet a lot of great people and it’s just a fun place to hang out.  It’s really just a social experience for me.  Of course, the money isn’t bad either.

Far from a professional poker player, Stocz turned his social experience into a lucrative hobby.  Besides the HPT championship, he recently cashed in a World Series of Poker Circuit Event in Hammond, Indiana for $35,000. His latest win ensures that Stocz plays more HPT events in the near future.

While Stocz doesn’t aim to be a professional player, he had to navigate a difficult final table that included three young professionals and a former HPT champion.  On-line whiz Jared Passanante, 22, from Utica, Michigan sat at the final table with a comfortable chip lead and a vast amount of tournament poker experience.  He chose the wrong time to pick a battle against Stocz and his aces, doubling up the champ early.  Passanante wisely began operating more carefully and had a fighting chance to the end of claiming the victory.  “It’s disappointing to finish second, but I’m still very happy with how I played,” said the young pro. 

Another player showing promise to win was professional player and former HPT champion David Peters from Toledo, Ohio.  No stranger to tournament success, Peters has over $750,000 in poker winnings, including a 2008 HPT Championship at Soaring Eagle worth $130,000.  Peters’ hopes of a repeat performance faded when a jack hit the turn, sending him and his pocket nines to the rail in sixth place.

The third pro to make the final six was Josh Kay, another West Bloomfield resident.  Playing poker professionally for just a few years, Kay successfully manages his game and his bankroll.  Unlike his West Bloomfield counterpart, Kay was card dead throughout, finally getting his chips in with ace-eight against Passanante’s ace-nine.

The final table also produced two great stories for Michigan locals Jorge Contreras of Spring Lake and Chad Gutzman from Mt. Pleasant, located about a mile from the casino.  Contreras, a casual poker player but serious race car driver, was hot early but fell victim to Stocz when his pocket jacks ran into queens.

Gutzman was hoping to keep the HPT title in Mt. Pleasant.  The financial analyst and father of two doesn’t have much time for poker, but his brother urged him to play, even offering to buy him in to an $85 satellite.  He took his brother up on his offer and rode it all the way to third place and $35,189.


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