WATERVILLE — Waterville and Brunswick had barely finished all their Christmas desserts before they had to turn around and try again for their first win of the season. And while it’s too early to talk about must-win games, Monday morning’s game was one they both could have used.

Brunswick got it, surviving a slew of penalties in the second period and holding off Waterville 3-1 in the first game of the 2011 Annual Christmas Tournament at Alfond Rink.

The loss dropped Waterville to a stunning 0-5 on the season. The Purple Panthers have scored five goals in the five games.

“I think a lot of it’s confidence,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said. “We’re just not getting a bounce. We can’t buy a goal.”

Of the tournament’s four games, this was the only one which counted in the Heal points standings. Spaulding (Vt.) defeated Winslow 9-1 in Monday’s other game, so Waterville will play Winslow in the consolation game at 11 a.m., today, while Brunswick takes on Spaulding at 1 p.m. for the tournament championship.

Waterville graduated five of its top six scorers from last season’s 9-10-1 team, and the Panthers are clearly still trying to find their rhythm. They got some momentum early on Monday when Aaron Saucier fed JT Whitten in the slot, and Whitten poked a shot through the legs of Brunswick goalie Jason Blier (28 saves) with 7:19 to play in the first period. It would be Blier’s only blunder of the day.

“He let a little bunny in there in the first period, but he came up big when he had to,” Brunswick coach Mike Routhier said. “He’s a big-game kind of goalie for us.”

The Dragons (1-2-1) tied the score just 47 seconds later. Ryan Maciejewski got a pass from Dylan Towle, created some space, and fired a point-blank shot into the top right corner of the net to knot the score at 1-1.

“We didn’t pack it up after that first goal,” Routhier said. “The last couple of years, we’ve struggled out of the gate after the holidays.”

Matt Brooks got the eventual game-winner 3:29 into the second period, as Towle dug the puck out of the right corner and hit a wide-open Brooks in front. Waterville goalie Cody Thibodeau (30 saves) stuffed the first shot, but Brooks sent home the rebound to make it 2-1.

The Dragons had to work to keep their lead, both because of Waterville’s determination and their own mistakes. In the six minutes after Brooks’ goal, Brunswick was assessed five penalties — four minors and a 10-minute misconduct on Maciejewski for hitting Waterville’s Zach Disch into the boards from behind.

With the penalties overlapping, Waterville had a 5-on-3 advantage for 55 seconds, and took a timeout before that stretch. The defining moment of the game for the Panthers came with the two-man advantage. A pass to the point went past the blue line, as two Waterville coaches reacted by putting both hands to their heads. The Panthers ended up with no shots with the two-man advantage.

“We were panicking,” Martin said. “A 5-on-3, we were trying to press instead of relaxing and getting the puck to our playmaker. That’s why I called a timeout, to get us to relax.”

Almost as frustrating was Blier’s nice save off a Chris Lee slapshot, and worse than that was when Brooks and Towle hooked up again, this time with Towle flipping in a short-handed goal with 3:58 to go in the period.

“We’ve just got to fight through that stuff,” Routhier said. “We try to be aggressive, change up our approach a little bit — we’ve been a little too passive. We just wanted to do something different, and it seemed like it worked. It paid off with a short-handed goal there, too.”

Trailing 3-1, Waterville was outshot 14-5 in the third period. Saucier had a wicked shot from the point hit the crossbar with 2:22 left, and Brunswick was in such control that Thibodeau could not leave the ice for an extra skater until just 10 seconds remained in the game.

Only a handful of high schools in Maine can match Waterville’s hockey tradition, so in a lot of ways, this is more than just another team in the process of rebuilding and learning to play together. But then again, Martin likes the hustle he’s seeing, and the season isn’t even one-third of the way over.

“We’re not done yet,” Martin said. “The season’s a marathon. It’s only five games. Hard work will create bounces. We’re going to be a good hockey team if we continue playing hard.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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