Vancouver party kicks off ahead of ice hockey clash

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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The party in Vancouver kicked off hours before Canada faced the United States in the men's ice hockey gold medal game on Sunday, with crowds that could grow into the largest celebration the Winter Games has seen so far.

With the game sold out months before anyone knew which teams would be on the ice, hundreds of people - most wearing Canada's red and white colors - lined up outside of bars to watch it on television.

"We invented the game," said Gordy Ford, who explained why he had traveled across Canada from northern Ontario and was willing to wait more than four hours for a prime spot in front of the television.

The crowds that were already forcing transit officials to reroute busses in the morning were expected to grow through the game, which is the last sporting competition before the closing ceremony of the 2010 Olympics.

Officials ordered liquor stores in the city's downtown to close in the early afternoon, hoping to cut down on the number of drunken fans - which was a problem during celebrations early into the Vancouver Games.

While most people were clearly rooting for a Canadian victory, there were also a number of American supporters hoping for a repeat of the U.S. ice hockey win over Canada in the preliminary round.

"We came from the U.S. to conquer the gold," said Keith Butts, from Seattle, who was walking the streets with two friends dressed up as Uncle Sam.

Anti-Olympic protesters, who have largely disappeared since the early days of the Olympics, were also planning to gather in downtown Vancouver as the game drew to a close. According to a protest organizer, the demonstration was to prove they had not gone away.

(Editing Frank Pingue)