VANCOUVER - A bespectacled man in a Montreal Canadiens jersey, moving so rapidly he might have been a Winter Olympics competitor, sprinted down the center of Cordoba Street late yesterday afternoon carrying an enormous Canadian flag.

A few blocks away, outside BDC Towers, two dozen fans, all in red Canada hockey sweaters, acted as cheerleaders for the Olympic throngs, most of whom required no prodding.

And two young women in a red convertible flew a pair of full-size Canadian flags from the rear of their Mercedes as they drove leisurely down Georgia Street, the banners' staffs a couple of hockey sticks.

How big a deal was yesterday's Team USA-Canada men's hockey game?

Well, can you remember the last time Canadians cut off the beer?

With a crowd anticipated at perhaps 200,000 roaming the city's streets, some of them fans of the archrival Americans, officials here ordered downtown beer and liquor stores to close early.

They had done the same on Saturday night when the hordes drawn here by the Olympics and the unseasonably warm weather made passage impossible on some sidewalks and clogged most available transportation options.

"Due to an unprecedented number of intoxicated people, we must do what we can to ensure the Games are safe for everyone," said a statement from British Columbia's liquor-licensing agency. "We're taking a measured approach."

But either the fans came already juiced or they didn't need any artificial stimulus to get cranked up for Canada's biggest international game since it beat the United States in the gold-medal contest at Salt Lake City eight years ago.

"This is our game," said Scott Robertson of suburban Abbottsford, wearing a jersey, hat, scarf, and flag that identified him as Canadian. "This is our country. No way we're going to let the Americans beat us today."

Ten blocks southeast of the game at Canada Hockey Place, there was gridlock on the side streets.

At taverns like the G Sports Bar & Grille on Granville Street, crowds spilled out the doors and passersby tried to catch a peek at the game by peering through tiny windows.

"Who's winning?" asked one woman who had been trading pins.

"[Expletive] Americans," came the response.

When traffic lights or traffic police halted the glacier-like flow of humanity, impromptu "U-S-A. U-S-A" cheers frequently erupted. That invariably prompted Canadians to drown them out with much louder chants of their own.

Thousands gathered in front of a giant TV on Robson Square to watch. When Eric Staal's first-period goal for Canada tied the score at 1, the explosion of joyful noise shook the pavement.

"It's over now," shouted one Canadian fan. "Yankees go home!"

Jim Worthington, a Vancouver native, likened the hockey-mad atmosphere to what he remembered as a youngster when Canadian Paul Henderson's goal gave his country a victory over the Soviet Union in 1972's Summit Series.

"People were delirious then," he said. "But you didn't see crowds like these. This is kind of a perfect storm for us. The Olympics here. A weekend. This kind of weather. Us playing the U.S. in our game."

Just about the only oasis of calm in this hockey hurricane was inside the Olympics Main Press Center, where journalists from Asia and other non-hockey nations, many of them watching the bobsled run on TVs, wondered what all the fuss was about.

Lost in the brouhaha of Canada-USA were the two other rivalry games taking place on what Olympic organizers had termed Super Sunday: Russia-Czech Republic, which Russia won, 4-2, and last night's Sweden-Finland triple-header finale.

"We'll take care of those countries when we face them," said Robertson. "Right now we're on a mission to beat the Americans. It's a mission from God."