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On the ice, he is intense, hard-nosed and always prepared. But the true measure of who Ian Tetley is can be found off the ice.

When approached for an interview before an important match in last weekend's M&M Skins Game in Oakville, Ont., Tetley, who was about to retire from competitive curling, tried to beg off, knowing full well where the line of questioning was heading.

Despite a long and distinguished career that included three Canadian and three world championships, Tetley wanted no individual attention hours before what would be his last game, a loss to Glenn Howard.

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"I don't want this to be about me," the 40-year-old lamented before finally agreeing to chat. "It's about the team."

However, it is about him, a player who may go down as one of the best second stones the game has seen. Not only has he collected triple titles at both the Brier and the worlds, he has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonspiel prize money.

Tetley, originally from Thunder Bay, Ont., comes from a curling family. His father, Bill, won the 1975 Brier, and Tetley followed him into the roaring game as soon as he was big enough to push a stone down the ice.

In 1985, after a stellar junior career, he and Pat Perroud hooked up with Al Hackner and Rick Lang to win Tetley's first Brier, made memorable by Hackner's miracle last-rock, double-takeout against Pat Ryan. The foursome went on to win the world crown that year, too.

After moving to Toronto, where he still resides, Tetley and Perroud teamed up with Ed Werenich and John Kawaja to form another dynamic rink that won the 1990 Canadian and world titles.

And for the past nine years, Tetley has played second for Wayne Middaugh, forming one-quarter of arguably the most successful team in the world during that period. With Middaugh, Tetley won his third Brier and world championship in 1998.

But after such a long period of playing at the top level, the grind has become too much for Tetley. For the past few years, his life has been a constant juggling act, balancing his duties as a single parent of a nine-year-old son, a job as product manager for Tommy Armour Golf Company and playing on the World Curling Tour.

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"Something had to give," Tetley said. "It's been a constant struggle to try and keep all the balls in the air these last few years. I'm actually relieved with this decision."

The last straw came when job commitments were going to keep Tetley out of the next three WCT Grand Slam events. Facing that prospect, he sat down with Middaugh and the two discussed the inevitable.

"I just told him that if he wanted to play, then play," said Middaugh, who will substitute veteran Doug Armstrong for the three Grand Slam events. "But we totally understood his decision. We'll miss him, that's for sure."

Middaugh said Tetley's demeanour on the ice meshed perfectly with the rest of his team, which includes Graeme McCarrel and Scott Bailey. They are a high-intensity bunch on the ice, always playing to win.

"He never pulled any punches," Middaugh said of Tetley. "If it's the 10th end and I've got a big shot, he'll tell you what he thinks we should play."

Not many front-end players would offer up such advice; most are content to shut up and sweep. But then, not many front-enders have the résumé Tetley does.

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"I think I had the ability to see a situation clearly, without worrying about the pressure," he said. "I may not have been the most diplomatic in the way I did things, but I think all my experience allowed me to do it that way."

Tetley will be remembered for his opinionated style as well as for his tremendous sweeping talent and ability to throw the high, hard one as well as a delicate draw. Above all, he'll likely be recalled for being a team player.

"To me, it's always been about the team," he said. "These other three guys on the Middaugh team have been great. In fact, I've always considered myself to be the weakest link -- these three are very talented. We accomplished a lot together.

"I wish them all the success. I hope they go on and win it all again."

While Tetley has no immediate plans to suit up again, he didn't rule out a return somewhere down the road, even if it was only a half-serious one.

"Who knows?" he chuckled. "Maybe I'll drag Perroud and Kawaja out of retirement when we hit senior age."

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For now, Tetley will enjoy a less-hectic lifestyle and watch his curling on television rather than from ice level.

He's earned a special spot in Canadian curling, one that will be hard to match.

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